When she learned her WestJet flight into Penticton Saturday night was being redirected back to Calgary, Jody Stone said she and other passengers broke into tears.
The Okanagan Falls woman was returning from a week-long trip to London, Ont., after visiting with her terminally-ill mother.
“We were really tired, most of us had already been up for 30 hours and I just really wanted to get back home. I missed Thanksgiving with my family because of this,” said Stone, who wound up spending the night at Calgary International Airport. “Everyone was very frustrated and very angry. We couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t redirect us to Kelowna.”
Airline spokesperson Morgan Bell said WestJet Encore 3297 had to turn back on Oct. 13 “due to weather.”
Stone confirmed that passengers were told after two landing attempts weather was the reason for returning to Calgary.
“But it was absolutely clear,” she said. “We could see from the airplane it was clear. I saw the tire almost hit the ground and then they went back up again.
“Honestly we just felt like a bunch of cattle. We were treated poorly, it’s unacceptable, the whole thing.”
This was the second WestJet Encore night time flight that had to turn back to Calgary in just over two weeks.
On Sept. 28 a similar situation happened when Flight WS3267 went back to the Alberta city due to the air ceiling being below safe operating limits.
Flights into Penticton, especially in poor weather conditions, have long been an issue. Transport Canada indicated that shortening the airport’s only runway last spring could result in delays and cancellations of flights at night and poor weather.
“As safety is our top priority since Transport Canada issued the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) to the Penticton Regional Airport on June 6, 2019, WestJet Encore has completed 95 per cent of its planned departures,” said a WestJet news release about the latest flight turnback.
“While we understand this situation is challenging, WestJet operates over 700 flights a day and even the smallest scheduling change can impact operations across our network.”
As of October, the airline reverted to its winter schedule of one daily flight to and from Calgary. The flight is scheduled to land in Penticton at 2:42 p.m. daily.
According to Nav Canada, the runway was shortened by 470 feet because of an obstacle at the north end of the runway, which was later identified as a 70-foot high exhaust system at Greenwood Forest Products mill. Transport Canada said the exhaust system could affect navigational aids that could cause problems for flights at night or in poor weather.
Both Transport Canada and mill officials are currently working to resolve the issue.
Regardless of the reason, for Stone, the entire situation ruined her Thanksgiving.
“There was no real explanation and there wasn’t even an apology. When I ended up getting into Penticton there was nobody there at all, there was one person who was working at the back counter who was quite sheepish and we had to wait for a half-hour after we landed to get our luggage,” she said.
“I honestly don’t think I’m ever going to fly to Penticton again. I’m just so sick of it.”