Courtesy / Jeffrey Lei

How Alberta Airports Stand Up To Winter Storms

By Briony Smith

When you’re getting ready for a flight, there’s little worse than inclement weather threatening to get in the way of your plans. Winter-storm delays may feel a little chaotic, but, in fact, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at the airport to ensure travellers get on their way. Here, two airport experts—Lethbridge Airport operations manager Trevor Deeley and Calgary Airport Authority vice-president of operations and infrastructure Chris Miles—offer a glimpse of how their respective teams keep winter travel running as smoothly as possible, even when Mother Nature has other plans. 


Planning for winter weather never stops, even over the summer months, according to Deeley in Lethbridge. Preventive maintenance and repairs on all the airport’s snow-clearing equipment is completed to ensure that they’re ready to go for the following winter.

The Calgary Airport Authority hires additional seasonal staff—more than doubling the number of employees by September—to operate specialized airport equipment and snow sweepers, according to Miles. They also store food and water around the airport in strategic locations, so it can be distributed to guests in the unlikely event that they cannot leave their location for an extended period.

Once winter hits, monitoring the weather is one of the most important things that the Lethbridge Airport staff does every day. “When there is even the slightest potential for winter storm activity, we ensure that extra staff are put on standby to assist the already scheduled staff with whatever Old Man Winter throws our way,” Deeley says.  


Security staff often do double duty during a winter storm. “On top of their security duties, our Airport Terminal Agents keep walkways clear and sanded during active weather and are always ready to help in any way they can, from assisting with heavy bags to answering questions that passengers may have,” Deeley says.  


Baggage handlers make sure their equipment is ready for the weather, Deeley says, and the airport makes sure that the aprons are clear of snow, so they can perform their duties and handle the aircraft for departure or arrival; they also de-ice the aircraft as per airline specifications. Sometimes, cargo hold doors can be frozen shut during flight and, in extreme cases, cannot be opened in time to offload the bags, Miles says: “Our airline partners work to resolve these types of issues as quickly as possible to limit the impact on the passengers.” 

Want a little extra support during your winter travels? Book through AMA and you’ll have access to counsellors available, live, to provide guidance to stranded travellers.