On my outgoing flight - 6 a.m. Thunder Bay to Toronto Jan. 20 - I arrived at the airport at 4 a.m. and was told the flight was cancelled (mechanical problems in Toronto that had prevented the previous night's flight to Thunder Bay. No notification...). I was rescheduled for a flight five hours later.
In Tampa Jan. 30 our 7 a.m. Tampa to Toronto flight was cancelled. No notification until we arrived to check in at 6 a.m. after an hour's drive. Computer check earlier indicated flight was on time. Fact is, that flight was cancelled the day previously, as well, in addition to the Toronto to Tampa evening flight that would have gotten the passengers there and the plane in place the 29th.
Although we were re-booked (as well as several dozen other passengers who had been displaced by the previous day's cancellation) for a flight 12 hours later, we were greeted at the gate by a last minute update on the board (no Air Canada person even showed up) that the flight was delayed for two more hours. It eventually did arrive, disgorging more than 50 passengers who had been delayed by more than 24 hours in Toronto, but once loaded and seated in the plane we were treated to another hour as the captain gave repeated updates as to why we couldn't leave.
After several updates, an obviously exasperated captain explained that that particular plane had been grounded for two days because of a malfunctioning fuel gauge and the plane was now being denied permission to fly until certified by an authorized technician - of which Air Canada had none in Tampa. He said it should not have left Toronto.
Not sure how the problem was solved (maybe the pilot notified his employer that he'd be taking early retirement, effective with his arrival back in Toronto, and just took off). The problem didn't have to do with fuel flow - just a gauge to show how much fuel was in one particular wing tank - nice information to have, but probably not critical for a routine flight as far as safety goes.
It was nearly 4 a.m. - more than 20 hours after the original flight time for us (more than 44 hours later for some of our fellow travelers who had been delayed before us) by the time we collected our luggage and cleared customs.
The promised Air Canada representatives who were to meet us all and help get complimentary hotel rooms and connecting flight tickets which hadn't been forthcoming in Tampa because they didn't know when the hell they'd get us to Toronto, were nowhere to be seen.
Eventually we found three people at computers set up temporarily in a little out-of-the-way alcove with no signs or greeters - it was so unobtrusive that after a few minutes someone asked what this line-up was for. We all hoped it was the Air Canada people (and it turns out it was), but we were like lemmings, desperate to find the help that had been promised and that was necessary to get our connecting tickets.
Soon after we got in line, two of the three representatives picked up their day bags and walked out, without a word, leaving the third, a fairly young lady, in tears, apologizing and explaining that they had all come in for their regular shifts at 10 a.m. the previous day and were still there 18 hours later.
I appreciate the dedication to safety, but the shortage of information and shabby treatment all along the way were hardly compensated by a $20 food voucher (no tips or alcohol allowed) in an airport where a cup of coffee costs $5 and a banana $2.
Most (but not all) of the employees we dealt with were very nice and very helpful (within their capabilities). But I am highly critical of a corporate culture that says, "We will overbook our flights but if we bump you off we'll compensate you a few hundred bucks for the inconvenience. On the other hand, if we just outright cancel your flight we'll give you a $20 food voucher - now go enjoy your next 48 hours in the terminal. Hope you find a comfy chair to sleep in... Oh, and by the way, we know you'll love our little game of hide and seek as you try to find our customer service ambassadors."