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People wait around during flight cancellations and delays at the Montreal Trudeau Airport on Dec. 30, 2019.

Andrej Ivanov/The Globe and Mail

An icy end to 2019 has thrown air travellers’ holiday plans into chaos, as snow and freezing rain caused the cancellation of dozens of flights in Ottawa and Montreal.

More than 70 departures were cancelled and several flights were delayed on Monday at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport amid freezing rain and snow. Marie-Claude Desgagnés, a spokeswoman for the Montreal hub, said the snowy weather in Ontario and the northeastern United States has slowed or stalled flights at the airport, Canada’s third-busiest.

Environment Canada issued a snowfall alert for Montreal and the surrounding region, warning of strong winds and saying 15 to 20 centimetres of snow could accumulate between Monday afternoon and Tuesday night. Ottawa is under a warning of freezing rain or ice pellets, hazards that could change to snow later on Monday, Environment Canada said.

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Airlines and airport operators are advising travellers to call their carriers to check on the status of their flights, and to arrive at the airport well in advance of their flight to leave time for lengthy check-ins.

Krista Kealey, a spokeswoman for Ottawa International Airport, said airlines cancelled a combined 42 of 262 arrivals and departures amid freezing rain on Monday. Some flights were cancelled ahead of the storm, she said. “It’s the cumulative effect of what’s happening at other airports and the weather in other cities,” Ms. Kealey said. “The system, once it gets disrupted, there’s a ripple effect that goes through the system and it takes a while to get it back on track, but hopefully the freezing rain will stop and we can play catch-up.”

Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman, said freezing rain poses a greater safety risk than snow because it gets into every niche on a plane and must be melted with de-icing fluid.

The storm caused the Montreal airport to limit Air Canada to 15 flights an hour on Monday, down from the usual 36 to 40, for safety reasons, he said. This meant the carrier had to select which flights to scrub. Typically, the airline will cancel shorter flights and protect long-haul flights on larger planes to avoid inconveniencing greater numbers of holiday travellers, and will try to fly bigger jets on other routes to get as many people to their destinations as possible. The airline also implemented its no-charge rebooking policy.

WestJet Airlines said it cancelled 33 Monday flights in Eastern Canada before the storm arrived, including three between Montreal and Toronto and one between Montreal and Calgary. “We continue to closely monitor the system and additional cancellations and delays are possible,” said Morgan Bell, a spokeswoman for the Calgary-based airline.

In an e-mail, Sunwing Airlines said it expects delays but no cancellations because of the bad weather in Ontario and Quebec. “As a leisure vacation provider, it’s extremely rare to cancel our flights, and we are doing everything within our control to ensure our customers’ vacations plans are not disrupted,” Sunwing said.

Travellers out of Montreal are also bracing for a possible strike on Jan. 1 by the workers who fuel the planes at Trudeau and Mirabel airports. The employees of Swissport Canada, represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, on Friday rejected a tentative contract proposal. The vote sets up a possible walkout on Wednesday.

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Swissport said in a statement it is “surprised and disappointed” by the contract’s rejection. “Travellers, customers, stakeholders and airport authorities can rest assured that our team will dedicate every effort to reach an agreement and continue the refuelling service during this busy period as we go back to the negotiation table,” Swissport said.

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