A worker drives pass an Air Canada aircraft parked at a gate at Vancouver International Airport after operations returned to normal after last week’s snowstorm, in Richmond, B.C., on Dec. 26, 2022.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

This holiday travel season will be remembered for cancelled flights, lost bags and stranded or abandoned passengers, people whose winter getaways were dashed by storms and the responses of the airlines they entrusted with their plans.

Canada’s aviation industry and flyers had hoped the December break would mark a recovery from nearly three years of the pandemic, and the summer of 2022, which featured airport chaos amid staff shortages.

Instead, the turmoil resurfaced with scores of cancelled flights condensed in the busiest travel days of the year. Sunwing Airlines’ collapse was the worst, with customers stranded for days in Mexico and other destinations complaining of poor communications from the carrier. WestJet Airlines, Air Canada and others cancelled flights as the storms grounded planes and halted crew transfers.

So why, in a country in which winter happens every year, were airlines and airports unable to operate as usual? And how did the airlines, which make much of their revenue selling tickets to people eager to escape cold weather, find themselves unable to operate?

The problems began with winter storms just before Christmas, in Western Canada and then in parts of Ontario and Quebec. But the safety problems were compounded by the fact that the airlines had few spare resources on which to rely. Their planes were largely full, and almost all were in use, making it hard to rebook passengers. And then there were the thinly stretched workforces, with many workers inexperienced, recent hires. The storms made it harder to move planes and crews where they were needed.

“They had so much demand [and]

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