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B.C. family among many whose holiday plans thwarted by flight cancellations

“I hope this won’t be my family’s last chance to celebrate Christmas together,” said Brian Shields, whose flight to Vancouver was cancelled last minute.
Flair Airlines is a low-cost Canadian airline. FLAIR AIRLINES

VANCOUVER — Brian Shields was packed and ready for his family’s first Christmas in Vancouver when he opened his phone Thursday to find out their flight was cancelled last minute.

“We were settling into bed before our morning departure when all of our planning, testing and quarantining became for nought,” said the 44-year-old lawyer, who grew up in Vancouver but now lives in San Diego with his wife, Ashley, and two-year-old daughter, Sierra.

The news came as more than 800 holiday weekend flights from U.S. air carriers were called off due to surging COVID-19 infections and the prospects of inclement weather.

Shields hasn’t seen his mother or father in person since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold two years ago. The generations of the family stayed a country apart due to the risk the virus presented to his ailing parents.

However, after Shields and the rest of his family were fully vaccinated, he wanted to give what he called “the family’s last Christmas together” a shot.

“We were looking forward to Sierra finally getting to spend some time with her grandparents. My mother has an advanced case of Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember the last time she saw her. My father just had emergency surgery for skin cancer. We don’t know what other chance we’ll have.”

“We are pretty sad,” said Shields, who was granted a full refund from Flair Airlines. Part of the reason Shields booked the trip — purchasing and taking antigen and polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests in advance — was to secure in-home care for his parents upon landing in Vancouver.

A spokesperson for Flair Airlines was unable to disclose to the Vancouver Sun why Shields’ flight to Vancouver was cancelled.

Jamina Kotak said the majority of Friday’s cancellations, of which there were 31 listed on the Edmonton-based airline’s website originating from U.S. and Canadian cities, were due to a combination of factors.

“De-icing has been going around with bad weather expected for some of the routes. One of our aircraft also needed attention, which affected our overall flight schedule and crew rest.”

Matthew Kunz, vice-president of Flair’s business operations, confirmed “we have not cancelled any flights directly due to COVID at this time.”

Currently, the biggest challenge for us is that the ups and downs of the pandemic have caused staffing issues on the ground and at the airport due to long lines and increased passengers.”

There were over 2,300 flight cancellations globally Friday, including 22 into and out of YVR, according to Flight Aware.

In the U.S., Delta Air Lines cancelled 158 of its 3,100 flights scheduled Friday and was expected to cancel upward of 150 on Saturday and Sunday.

“The impact of the Omicron variant is driving cancellations that are expected throughout the weekend,” read a Friday statement from the airline.

A United Airlines spokesperson said it was forced to nix 180 Friday flights due to a spike in Omicron impacting its crews. “We’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” Maddie King said in an email.

Shields, who remains in San Diego, is hoping to rebook flights to see his parents in the new year.

“I’ve looked into last-minute flights but scrambling to catch them, costing us more than $1,000 one way, could cause us increased exposure to COVID-19 with having to take multiple flights or getting stuck in an airport somewhere if more are cancelled.”

“I hope this won’t be my family’s last chance to celebrate Christmas together,” he said.