WestJet cancels over 30 Calgary flights as temperatures plunge to -35 C

As of Friday afternoon, WestJet was responsible for 34 of the 38 cancellations out of Calgary International Airport

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A slew of flights at Calgary International Airport were pre-emptively cancelled Friday — mostly involving WestJet — as dangerously cold temperatures settled in across the Prairies.

Meanwhile, competitors such as Air Canada and Porter continued to service flights in and out of Calgary, posting substantially fewer cancellations.

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As of 1 p.m. Friday, 38 flights out of Calgary were cancelled and 23 had been delayed.

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Thirty-four of those cancelled flights were WestJet trips — mostly regional planes headed to destinations such as Medicine Hat, and Prince George and Kamloops in B.C., though some cross-country flights to Toronto and Ottawa were also cancelled.

Air Canada cancelled four flights out of Calgary.

A handful of flights out of Vancouver and Toronto heading for Calgary and other parts of Alberta and Canada under extreme cold warnings were also cancelled or delayed Friday.

In a Friday afternoon statement, WestJet said de-icing fluid was ineffective at the low temperatures and some equipment had been rendered inoperable, resulting in effects to its service.

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“As temperatures drop below the threshold at which de-icing fluid is effective and rendering equipment such as bridges and fuel stations inoperable, out of an abundance of caution for safety, we are limiting the amount of time our crews and ground partners are working outside,” it wrote.

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WestJet cancelled 87 flights on Thursday and 104 flights by Friday afternoon. In comparison, at the height of the late-2022 winter storms, WestJet at one point cancelled 210 flights in a single day.

The airline added customers seeking assistance were experiencing high wait times and asked guests to wait until 72 hours in advance of their flight to call.

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For Saturday, when temperatures are forecast to remain around -30 C, WestJet had already cancelled five flights out of Calgary and Air Canada had cancelled one.

A spokesperson for Porter Airlines said the company didn’t expect cold-related cancellations on Friday, and noted one early morning flight out of Calgary was delayed by an hour because one of its aircraft’s cargo doors had frozen.

“The equipment doesn’t always function the way that you want it to when it gets down to temperatures that you’re experiencing right now,” said Brad Cicero, Porter’s director of communications.

In a statement to Postmedia, Air Canada said it’s watching the situation closely “as deep cold temperatures may affect aircraft operational limits and, just as importantly, the ability to de-ice aircraft.”

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Early January is one of the quietest times of year for air travel in Canada, said Rick Erickson, a Calgary-based aviation consultant.

That means airlines are likely avoiding bottlenecks experienced just over a year ago, when severe weather across Canada threatened thousands of Canadians’ ability to make it home in time for the holidays.

“Those two to three weeks after Christmas are always very, very flat,” he said, adding the number of WestJet cancellations caught him off guard.

Airlines shouldn’t be adversely affected by the frigid temperatures, he said. Porter’s Cicero said barring any snowfall, which isn’t forecast for Calgary until next Tuesday when temperatures are expected to rise, operations should continue with only small delays.

Major travel snags during the 2022 holiday season prompted WestJet to announce several changes it has made ahead of the most recent Christmas travel season by working with Sunwing Airlines, which it owns, to help manage capacity and transitioning to a new baggage-handling partnership at the Calgary airport to speed up handling times.

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