Wondering what really happened with those CanJet planes in the storm?

Canjet-diversion2If there is a silver lining behind severe weather such as we received here in New Brunswick over Christmas, it’s in the sense of community that the storms brought out among our citizens.

Thousands lost power in the first ice storm of the season—some for many days—and their neighbours, friends, or relatives opened their doors to provide a warm place to stay. We saw residents thanking NB Power crews, as well as linemen brought in from other jurisdictions, for giving up their holidays to restore power in the midst of unrelenting ice, wind and cold.

At the Fredericton International Airport, we ended up being part of this collective storm response.

It’s not every day that on top of our scheduled traffic, we get two large planes with nearly 200 passengers each landing on our tarmac, but it happened during the storm last Monday. Ice had temporarily shut down Dorval in Montreal, and so two CanJet planes bringing people home from a Cuban holiday were diverted to us.

While it’s not every day we get this extra traffic, it’s not that unusual either. We often get diverted flights because we are often open when other airports in the Atlantic region, closer to the ocean, are forced to close.

In this case, the two CanJet pilots assumed this would just be a short delay until Montreal reopened, and in order to be ready to head there the minute that word came, they of course kept the passengers and crew on board. But as anyone who has experienced a flight delay knows all too well, things often don’t go according to plan (even when you’re already on Plan B).

That’s what happened here. The CanJet crews assumed they would get the clearance to proceed to Montreal. Unfortunately just as the Montreal airport finally reopened there was a medical emergency on board one of the planes, and a passenger was taken to the Chalmers. Thankfully, they are OK now and back in Montreal. Once that passenger was taken care of, the crews were at their limit for allowable consecutive work hours and had to take a mandatory break.

It was at this point that the pilots determined the passengers would need to disembark and the FIAA was called into action. Once we learned the planes would not be proceeding to Montreal, we immediately called in Customs to process the passengers. The local Fredericton agents showed up very quickly, and extra agents called in from Saint John to help with the volume arrived as soon as they could.

Being Canadian, and it being winter, we are accustomed to dealing with whatever Mother Nature throws at us with good cheer and a sense of humour. But even Canadian resilience has a breaking point, and empathizing with these passengers who had been sitting on an aircraft for many hours, we could only imagine that they must be very uncomfortable and frustrated.

So we wanted help to make the passengers as comfortable as possible in our facilities which, as most know, are not large. Knowing that the passengers were probably hungry and thirsty, we worked with the Freddy Bistro here at the airport as well as the Oromocto Sobeys to pull together coffee, water, juice and munchies for the passengers. Then we helped arrange transportation to get them all to a local hotel for the night.

It’s completely understandable that many of the passengers were upset at having to sit in their plane on the tarmac for six hours. Our hope is that their frustration was alleviated somewhat by the way they were treated by the Fredericton Airport once they walked in, and feedback from the passengers tells us that this is the case.

What we did, though, was no different than what so many other New Brunswickers did in the midst of these storms: whatever they could to make the people directly affected comfortable.

It’s just the way we do things in the Maritimes.

We couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of partners like the Customs officials, and the people at Sobeys, the staff at the Freddy Bistro and those who helped with transportation and accommodations. We want to take this occasion to say thank you.

Note: this article by John Hamilton, director of marketing and business development for the Fredericton International Airport Authority, was originally published in the Daily Gleaner on January 18, 2014.