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“Your flight is cancelled”

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It was not a promising beginning…. “I’m so sorry but your flight from Winnipeg to Toronto is cancelled.” Stunned, we explained we had onward flights to Brussels then Bombay so we really HAD to reach Toronto.

En route to the airport, we had just been discussing how in Canada planes now never fly empty. Why? If there aren’t enough passengers to make it somewhat viable, the flight is cancelled.

Ottawa Off & On (photo: Carissa Hickling)

Ottawa Off & On (photo: Carissa Hickling)

The good thing was the woman helping us immediately grasped our quandary and overcame all sorts of impediments to get us on the next flight to Ottawa connecting immediately to Toronto in time to change terminals and catch our international flight – provided NOTHING was delayed.

She further sweetened our situation by waiving the extra baggage charge and provided sufficiently generous food vouchers to cover coffee, breakfast and lunch to-go.

In Ottawa, we literally got off one plane walked to the next gate and got on another plane – a process that took a grand total of 5 mins door-to-door with the flight taking off 15 mins later. We couldn’t help speculating whether our luggage would manage to make an equally efficient transfer – thankfully it did!

Despite the grumbling, the reality is that Canada remains much more reliable than other places for on-time travel and relatively few cancellations. In fact, Toronto is in the top 10 most reliable busy airport in the world! And both Air Canada and WestJet were considered North America’s top 10 most reliable airlines in June 2013. When you expect everything to function on time, it’s a shock when it doesn’t. Contrast that with much of Asia where it is a delightful surprise when anything functions as promised!

For example, China is notorious for delays and cancellations and features in the least reliable busy international airports. Less than 30% of Shanghai flights leave on time. Beijing is even worse – less than 20% of flights leave on schedule. According to Chinese civil aviation reports, over 500,000 flights were delayed last year.

Um... weren't we supposed to be in Shanghai? Deplaning in Zhoushan Putuoshan Airport on on Zhujiajian Island (photo: Carissa Hickling)

“Um… This isn’t Shanghai?” Deplaning in Zhoushan Putuoshan Airport on Zhujiajian Island (photo: Carissa Hickling)

I’ve certainly fallen victim on more than one occasion. A simple 2.5 hour flight from Shenzen to Shanghai took 13 hours and was re-routed to Zhoushan Putoshan Airport which boasts a run-way considered too short for the fully laden 747s that regularly make un-planned stops. When I think about it, I can’t recall even one flight taken in China that was actually punctual – just varying degrees of lateness.

One would think India would be equally bad. And there was a time that it was! However investment in airport infrastructure and most importantly strictness with check-in and boarding times has made a massive difference. Today, with traffic equal to London’s Gatwick or Newark airport, it may interest you to note that New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International has a higher on-time score than both! Only 1 percent of New Delhi departures were cancelled and delays are weather related such as the ubiquitous fog / smog in winter.

It seems in this one small way, India is more reliable than China. And for my Canadian friends – yes it is inconvenient when flights are cancelled or re-routed. However spend a little time in China before you complain too much!

PS Anyone curious about where I found my ‘reality check’ stats, see www.flightstats.com

What is your best or worst travel timing experience?



  1. I’m still stunned from reading that your luggage made the connection…

  2. gkm2011 says:

    Amazing story – and now you understand why I try to take the train to Beijing!

  3. pollyheath says:

    I’ve been reading several travel success stories… Hope mine turns out the same way next week!

    And my worst experience was a 14-hour delay from DC to Moscow. The delay was in DC but I was flying a Russian company. No explanation after the first hour as to why it was delayed for so long…

    • Let’s hope your upcoming travels fall into the happy success story category!

      Your delay sounds dreadful – I hope the entire 14 hours wasn’t on the plane??

      I recall once in Hong Kong airport being on a plane that waited and waited and waited on the tarmac. I looked out the window to see several fire trucks, police and army vehicles. So was not the least surprised when the engines were cut and we were asked to de-plane.

      Naturally the reason given was ‘mechanical failure’ however it looked a lot like a bomb threat. Sure enough, I asked one of the airline guys and in broken English he confirmed my suspicions were correct.

      The process we went through was another hour on a bus, then back for further security checks, all kept in the same semi-isolated area, another hour or so for the plane to be carefully checked. Then we trooped right back on the same plane… merely four hours late!

      • pollyheath says:

        Wow, that’s really scary! I’m not sure I would have wanted to get back on the plane, even though they had checked it. Seems unlucky!

        The only thing that happened to me like that was the very first time I came to Russia. I was in Saint Petersburg waiting to make a connecting flight and all of the flights were mysteriously delayed without any reason. All the sudden the tarmac filled with high security (guns, dogs, etc). I thought bomb threat but no — a few minutes later a helicopter arrived and four people got out and hustled into a private jet. Not two hours into my time in Russia and I saw Medvedev (and maybe Putin was there as well, just too short to see)!

  4. ottominuti says:

    Wow, is his because of the economic crisis? Companies in Europe have been doing it for sometime now, especially on short internal flights. I wouldn’t imagine it could happen in Canada, where I am told the economy is expanding. Worst travel experience? Indian internal flight, early 90s: on and off the plane for 4 hours, everytime we were about to take off, thee was a bomb alert and they would let us off again….but I still remember they had very nice soft caramel candies on board…

    • For some time the airline industry has struggled so flying full is a goal. With fuel costs, can’t afford to fly empty… so don’t. At least this is what I’ve understood of the situation – have not doubt it is considerably more complicated! 😉

  5. gina4star says:

    Oh wow, that was a smooth connection! Glad you made it, AND your luggage, i’m mightily impressed! Your flight from Shenzen to Shanghai sounds horrendous!
    I’m flying to Minnesota in a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t find a direct flight from Mexico City, so I’m going via Toronto! I’ve never been to Canada and i kind of wish I had more time to be able to leave the airport and see it, but I’m really hoping it will be a perfect connection and I won’t be there for long at all! 🙂

    • Actually the flight wasn’t so bad, just the looooong delays meant I missed my Saturday night dinner, drinks and dancing plans!

      All the best for your journey “home” and I’m sure Toronto airport will treat you kindly. 🙂

  6. Airliner says:

    Flights will never be cancelled because they are empty. I’ve sent out planes with 2 people on it, and some with none, referred as “ferried” flights. Think of it as a bus route. That aircraft is due in the next city otherwise whether there are people on it or not. If its cancelled then what do you think happens to the folks in the downline cities?
    This does happen, but its usually caused by weather or maintenance, not because a flight is empty.

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