TORONTO (AP) — Air Canada canceled more than two dozen flights to Canadian and U.S. destinations early Friday as a wildcat strike by its ground workers threatened to create travel chaos at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
At least 50 Air Canada flights and some from other airlines were delayed after ground workers walked off the job Thursday evening and left hundreds of passengers in limbo.
Many people had to leave flights already on the tarmac until management was able take over some baggage handling duties and allow the flights to continue to their destination.
Shortly after the job action began, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the action involved “a small number of ground handling employees” at Pearson.
But the walkout showed no sign of abating early Friday, with dozens of ground workers gathered outside the arrivals deck of Terminal One. Many cheered as colleagues arriving for the day shift chose to join the protest.
Many passengers said they had no idea where their luggage was, or how they were going to get to their destinations.
Aaron Huizing was heading home from the Dominican Republic when the walkout began.
“I say the same thing every time: ‘I’m never going to deal with Air Canada again.’ Maybe next time I’ll listen to myself,” he said.
Air Canada has been plagued with labour troubles over the last year.
The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that prompted the federal government to recently step in with legislation banning strikes or lockouts at the airline.
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had insisted the government had to act to protect the national economy.
Ottawa also had to intervene in contract disputes involving the airline’s flight attendants and its customer service agents.
There was no immediate sign that Raitt would intervene in the dispute.
A spokesperson Raitt’s office told The Canadian Press in an email that “these issues fall with Air Canada internally.”
Should Air Canada feel the job action constitutes an illegal strike, the spokesperson said, “they can bring this matter to the Canadian Industrial Resolution Board.”
Earlier Thursday, angry Air Canada workers rallied in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s constituency office in Calgary to send him what they called a symbolic message.