Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Canadian air travel got a respite from being at the butt of negative press on Friday (July 8) after a nationwide Rogers outage cut wireless, cable and internet services across the country, forcing many to scramble for connectivity like it was 1993.
Friday’s outage, the second for the Toronto-based telecommunications company in the past 15 months, made daily tasks challenging for everyone – Rogers customer or not – as the suspension crippled modern-day conveniences such as cashless payments (like Interac), emergency services, online banking, and riding-sharing apps.
The interruption left a trail of chaos in its wake. Even the The Weeknd’s world tour kick-off show at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto was postponed, some 30 minutes before the doors opened, leaving thousands of upset fans – some of which had travelled great distances to see the concert – in the lurch.
It is unclear exactly how many people were left without service, but Rogers has more than 11 million wireless customers and also supports Fido’s roughly three million clients.
Some 300,000 TekSavvy customers were also impacted as that company buys its network access from Rogers, and people with Chatr, a mobile company run by Rogers, were also cut off.
Sending out an SOS
Of course, the shutdown (which has now been mostly restored) didn’t serve Canada’s business community, as many were unable to receive calls, emails or texts, and the burn was felt among Canadian travel professionals.
For Samantha Gillingham, a business development manager for Ontario, Alberta and B.C. at Club Med, Friday’s outage disrupted her normal activities.
“Not being able to have a working cell phone or internet with my role as a BDM greatly impacted my daily routine,” Gillingham told PAX. “This is our main line of communication with all agents.”
When it became clear that a nationwide outage was unfolding, Gillingham resourcefully used her personal cell phone (which is with a different provider) to create a hotspot so she could update travel advisors of the situation.
“Keeping my agents informed was my number one priority,” Gillingham said. “Our Club Med Agent Facebook page was a saving grace in keeping everyone informed as well as updated. And it worked!”
“We also made sure to keep the trade informed on how to use Club Med TA. Thankfully, our call centre was 100 per cent up and running throughout the day.”
Gillingham said her Rogers connection was restored early Saturday morning, and said that “even with this inconvenience, we were able to keep operations running smoothly.”
TravelOnly’s Amanda Beaver of GLOW Travel and Events was also temporarily cut off from the world.
The Ontario-based travel advisor and business owner told PAX that she had no phone or internet service for 24 hours and had to rely on her husband’s provider (Bell) to receive messages.
“It was a little crazy,” said Beaver, who was on a road trip to Detroit with her family when she realized Rogers was down.
The outage couldn’t have come at a worse time as Beaver, that day, had to connect with several clients: a group in Antigua, a group coming home from Jamaica and another group that had a final payment due.
“I wasn’t able to reach anybody,” said Beaver, who eventually posted an SOS on her Facebook page, updating customers of the situation, by connecting to a wi-fi connection at a roadside Wendy’s.
Fortunately, members on Beaver’s team were able to step in as backup and keep operations going.
“We got through it,” said Beaver, who had her Rogers connection restored at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Government-managed infrastructure for travel wasn’t immune either.
Early Friday, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) took to Twitter to announce that travellers who use Rogers may not be able to complete their mandatory ArriveCAN submission online or through the app.
The CBSA said impacted travellers would be required to submit their info using a Traveller Contact Information Form, to be completed prior to arrival at the border if unable to submit via ArriveCAN, and use paper copies for proof of vaccination.
Naturally, this ignited a firestorm of commentary on social media as users reiterated calls to scrap ArriveCAN altogether while others sarcastically asked where they could find an in-flight printer.
CBSA later told CTV News that their form was available at ports of entry, and if it wasn’t, that border services officers would collect information from travellers, verbally, upon arrival.
The normal CBSA 1-800 numbers were also down due to the blackout.
From Service Canada to Air Canada
Service Canada, which issues passports, also tweeted that its call centres and offices were impacted by the suspension, which only exacerbated passport delays that have left Canadians lined up outside offices for lengthy periods as Ottawa tackles a backlog.
It seems that customers of Air Canada, too, were inconvenienced.
In a statement Friday, the airline said it was experiencing "technical issues" with its "telephone service provider" as it responded on Twitter to a passenger who was asking about a lost bag and couldn’t get through to Air Canada by phone.
Other areas of transportation also grappled with being disconnected.
Metrolinx, which manages GO Transit, UP Express and the Presto cards used for Toronto transit, tweeted that fares could not be purchased using debit or credit and e-tickets may be unavailable.
TransLink BC, Metro Vancouver’s transportation network, stated that its Compass vending machines were not able to accept debit payments (but could still accept cash and credit).
Even the Confederation Bridge between P.E.I. and New Brunswick was unable to process debit, and could only accept cash, gift cards and credit cards.
“We need something reliable”
By late Saturday afternoon (July 9), Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri apologized for everything – even as some customers faced three straight days without cell or internet service – and blamed the outage on a maintenance update.
But that may not be enough to keep customers connected to the Rogers network.
Amanda Beaver says she’s already looking at switching providers for her travel business.
“We’re all working remotely and travelling all the time. We need something reliable,” she told PAX.
Beaver said the incident has forced her to think of strategies to put in place should another network outage occur.
“Like having a back-up line,” she said. “Or carrying two phones with you, with different providers.”
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