Holiday hell: Kiwi holidaymakers stranded by savage storms in Canada and US

A snowstorm has caused travel chaos at Vancouver Airport in southern British Columbia. Video/CBC News

The plan was to celebrate a Kiwi Christmas with loved ones and dip her infant son’s feet in the ocean for the first time.

Instead, the Toronto-based ex-Aucklander and his small family could spend Christmas Day stuck in a chain hotel room in ice-bound Vancouver after their flight home was canceled amid a massive Arctic storm that cut a swath of travel disruption across the United States and Canada.

“We’ve got the little boy now and my family is very excited, but yes, we’re going to spend our Christmas at the Holiday Inn. We’ll hang out in the hotel room.”

The man, his Canadian fiancee and their 9-month-old son were due to fly from Vancouver to Auckland and then Wellington – where the man’s family lives – on Air New Zealand flight NZ23 on December 21.

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But the flight was canceled after the storm — described by some as a “once-in-a-generation” weather event that dumped 30 centimeters of snow on Vancouver — caused travel chaos across the US and Canada.

Vancouver International Airport has restricted international flights for Canadian and US-registered carriers for two days to clear a backlog of passengers and aircraft.

The tail of an Air Canada plane is seen behind a pile of snow at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 21.  The airport restricted international flights for two days to carriers registered in Canada and the United States in an effort to clear a blizzard-sparking backlog.  Photo/AP
The tail of an Air Canada plane is seen behind a pile of snow at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 21. The airport restricted international flights for two days to carriers registered in Canada and the United States in an effort to clear a blizzard-sparking backlog. Photo/AP

The family was rebooked on the December 23 flight, but it suffered the same fate – cancellation – both times as the flight from Auckland was also canceled due to weather.

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His frustration was not with the weather, but with Air New Zealand’s customer service, the man said.

He asked not to be identified because he feared the family’s chances of rebooking could be affected if their names were known.

To wait out the delay at a city hotel before leaving Vancouver International Airport, costing the couple – who have travel insurance – more than $1000 so far, they asked Vancouver-based Air New Zealand staff to rebook them, but were told it must be done. will be done through customer service.

They were also told they could book flights to New Zealand at their own expense with Air Canada or through the United States — which was about $10,000 and unaffordable, the 34-year-old insurance worker said.

The weather caused widespread disruption to international services in the US and Canada.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
The weather caused widespread disruption to international services in the US and Canada. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Instead, she waited five hours before calling customer service – out of the 18 hours she and her fiance were stuck on Air New Zealand between them.

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“I understand the weather will happen but that’s not the problem. It’s that customer service is non-existent and no one wants to help. We have had no contact with them since Tuesday night. No email, nothing.”

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman did not have details of the couple’s specific situation, but staff were “working really hard” to contact affected passengers directly and rebook them, sometimes through US airports.

“It’s a terrible situation and terrible time, but customer service people are doing everything they can to get passengers home because we know how important it is … to get people home for Christmas.

“But right now the weather is really throwing us a curveball.”

A Canada Post worker delivers mail in Burnaby, Vancouver after a blizzard dumped more than 30 centimeters of snow on the Canadian city.  Photo/AP
A Canada Post worker delivers mail in Burnaby, Vancouver after a blizzard dumped more than 30 centimeters of snow on the Canadian city. Photo/AP

Six flights from Vancouver and Chicago had already been cancelled, but tonight’s Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Vancouver was still on schedule – meaning there could be a return flight tomorrow, weather dependent.

Thousands of flights to the US alone have been canceled due to the storm “so it’s not at all a unique situation for Air New Zealand”, he said.

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As of this morning (NZT) airlines have canceled more than 4400 US flights as severe winter storms disrupt airport operations across the country.

The disruption followed nearly 2,700 flight cancellations yesterday, according to flight tracking website FlightAir. Passenger railroad Amtrak canceled dozens of trains through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel for thousands.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed ground stops or delays for deicing at several US airports due to winter weather.

“Severe winter weather moving northeast across the Great Lakes will have a major impact on flights,” the FAA said, adding that “flight delays may occur from Boston to D.C. metropolitan area airports, Seattle-Tacoma and Portland International Airports, and Aspen, Colorado.”

In Chicago, gusts of up to 80 km/h are expected today (NZT) and another 5500 US flights have been delayed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN the nation’s aviation system was “operating under tremendous pressure.”

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A U.S. pedestrian braves snow and cold on Dec. 22 in St. Louis.  Cold air is moving eastward through the central United States, affecting about 135 million people in the coming days, Weather Service meteorologist Ash Robinson Cook said.  Photo/AP
A U.S. pedestrian braves snow and cold on Dec. 22 in St. Louis. Cold air is moving eastward through the central United States, affecting about 135 million people in the coming days, Weather Service meteorologist Ash Robinson Cook said. Photo/AP

Two storms and high winds are affecting airports across the country. About 10 percent of U.S. flights were canceled yesterday, Buttigieg said.

Meanwhile, the stranded Kiwi-Canadian couple are now reconsidering their planned three-week holiday in New Zealand, their first time here since the pandemic, the person said.

“I don’t think there are going to be international flights from Vancouver after Christmas. We think we should go back to Toronto.

“We just wanted to get [our son] To the family for Christmas … and to the beach. I was looking forward to finally taking her to sea, but that wasn’t going to happen.”

– with RNZ

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