Canada travel woes strand Minnesota school group

People in line at airport
Passengers endure long waits Sunday at Montreal Trudeau International Airport as flight delays and cancellations mount. That includes a group of students and chaperones from Elk River.
Chris Hewitt

A group of five students and their chaperones from Spectrum High School in Elk River are feeling the pain of continued flight cancellations as they try to make their way back from Europe through Montreal.

Chris Hewitt, one of the chaperones, told MPR News his group has spent most of the time in the airport since Thursday when they were supposed to return via Air Canada.

"You know we've all hit the end of the road, and like I said we are about 35 hours now with no sleep and we don't know where we are going, what we are doing next,” he said on Sunday.

In a travel alert on its website, Air Canada blamed the weekend delays and cancellations in Montreal and Toronto on what it called "airport facilities constraints."

Air travel in Canada has been snarled for weeks as increased demand has collided with staffing shortages of security and customs personnel at airports and among customer service workers and other employees at the airlines themselves.

Canadian officials have also relaxed some of the COVID-19 testing requirements for arriving passengers to help ease delays, but problems persist.

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Passengers like Hewitt and those in his group are caught in the middle. He said about 40 people connected to the school made the trip to Europe, and most of them have made it back home to Minnesota. But his group remains.

“It really tarnishes it for the kids. And you know, we are trying to do this every couple years to give the opportunity to children to get out and see the world when many don't,” he said.

Now the group is considering renting a car and driving 20 hours back to Minnesota.

Things may not be much better domestically when it comes to air travel.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed airlines to come up with a plan to avoid travel disruptions during the busy July 4 weekend.

Friday, an industry group representing major airlines responded that airlines want a plan from the Federal Administration about the holiday weekend. The industry blames staffing shortages at FAA air traffic control towers for contributing to delays and cancellations.