Flight cancellations cause mayhem for international students

An Air Canada flight from Montreal, Que. lands at the Fredericton International Airport in Fredericton, N.B. on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

When Ale Baca and Alexa Romero arrived at the Fredericton International Airport on Dec. 17 for a flight to Montreal, neither were prepared for the issues they would encounter.

Shortly after they arrived at 3 p.m., the pair of international students received an email from Air Canada saying their flight was delayed from 4:15 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.

“I don’t know if I believe in God, but there has to be some higher being that hates me,” said Baca, a first-year student at St. Thomas University.

Baca and Romero boarded the plane at about 5 p.m., during which time a flight attendant announced that maintenance issues would result in several more delays.

After Baca and Romero sat on the plane for about an hour, the flight was eventually cancelled after the pilot came on the loudspeaker, explaining there was a problem with the plane’s oxygen tank.

“The pilot asked us to leave the airplane. He said, ‘I don’t know when another one will be coming,’” said Baca. 

Ale Baca, a first-year St. Thomas University student, poses for a portrait on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

The pair were just two of thousands of winter holiday travellers from coast to coast whose plans turned upside down due to widespread flight delays and cancellations, mostly due to bad weather.

Air Canada did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication, but emails sent to Baca and Romero said the flight was cancelled for “unforeseen maintenance.”

While the plane deboarded, Romero waited for their bags and Baca stood in line to talk to the Air Canada representative.

“The line is long as hell,” said Baca, who had a connecting flight in Montreal scheduled for the next morning.

While she waited, Baca’s mother phoned from Ecuador. She had also learned of the flight cancellation and wanted to try helping out from her end.

“This comes back to bite me in the ass — spoiler alert,” Baca joked.

Baca said her mother cancelled her connecting flight from Montreal to Quito to avoid missing the plane.

Cancelling would allow her to save the trip for another time.

But Baca explained to her mother that she texted her girlfriend, who offered to drive about eight hours to Montreal. 

“She starts crying and I go, ‘No, Mom, it’s okay. It’s okay … I’ll just spend Christmas in Fredericton,’” she said. 

“She’s crying her eyes out. I’m like, ‘I will figure myself out. Breathe. Drink some water. It’s going to be okay.’”

After Baca hung up the phone, she turned around in line, squatted down to the ground, covering her eyes with her hand. She felt a few tears fall.

She explained the whole situation to Romero, who soon joined her in the line and gave her a hug.

“This is the best thing that could have happened to me because before this, she went out to smoke a cigarette,” said Baca. 

“I inhale the sweet, sweet cigarette smell. I literally say this out loud. ‘It’s exactly what I needed to not cry.’”

Romero and Baca soon left the airport. Romero returned the next morning and took the 9 a.m. flight to Montreal, which was delayed numerous times until it eventually took off at about 12 p.m.

Baca made plans with her girlfriend to spend Christmas with her and her family in Campbellton, N.B.

“She invited me. She already felt really bad, as people do. I tell my story and everyone looks at me with so much pity,” she said. “But I love telling the story. It’s hilarious.”