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Diverted Air France passengers kept Iqaluit airport staff busy


May 10, 2024  By Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News

Passengers disembark from an Air France flight Tuesday, after it was grounded due to what the airline described as a “heat smell.” The passengers were picked up later Tuesday night and flown to New York and then to their Seattle destination. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

It wasn’t a normal Tuesday for staff at an Iqaluit airport gift shop when 260 passengers were unexpectedly stuck in the airport terminal for nearly 11 hours.

The passengers made their unplanned arrival at the airport shortly before noon Tuesday when their Air France flight from Paris, bound for Seattle, Wash., made an emergency landing in Iqaluit after a “heat smell” was detected inside the plane.

With their arrival, the staff at the gift shop got to work, making sure the travellers were happy and comfortable.

“They were just more curious and had lots of questions,” Troy LeBlanc, manager of Arctic Co-op’s gift shops and Tundra Takeout at the airport, said of the international travellers.

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An Air France jet is parked at the Iqaluit Airport Wednesday. On Tuesday, the jet made an emergency landing due to a “heat smell,” grounding 272 passengers travelling from Paris to Seattle. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

The store, located on the secure side of the airport, usually only serves passengers leaving Iqaluit for Ottawa. It is stocked with snacks, bottled drinks and souvenirs like mugs, books and Nunavut flags.

Serving so many curious, hungry travellers, staff had to make several runs to restock their supply.

LeBlanc credited his employees for their work, and shared his appreciation for the travellers’ kindness to airport staff.

“Everybody for the most part was in a great mood,” he said.

“We probably went through a seven-day stock load in one evening.”

The emergency arrival of the Air France Boeing 787 Dreamliner drew a response from the city’s first responders, as well as the curiosity of onlookers.

Two airport emergency vehicles, a City of Iqaluit fire truck, two ambulances and several RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency vehicles lined up beside the runway before the plane safely landed at 11:44 a.m.

The passengers were stuck on the jet until around 4 p.m., when they were able to disembark and were confined to the airport’s secure area for the remainder of their stay.

Eventually, the passengers departed on a replacement plane Air France flew in from Montreal, which took them to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and then on to Seattle.

“The Air France flight left Iqaluit at 10:48 p.m. eastern time on May 7 and arrived at JFK airport at 1:59 a.m.,” said John Hawkins, a Government of Nunavut assistant deputy minister of economic development and transportation, in a statement to Nunatsiaq News.

The jet that landed Tuesday morning is still parked at the Iqaluit airport.

On Tuesday afternoon and into the evening, RCMP officers and CBSA staff worked together to ensure the passengers were doing well and the airport was secure, said RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Maj. Pauline Melanson in an email.

“The RCMP remained alive [on] the human element while exemplifying the Canadian and Inuit hospitality, as they assisted the travellers in matters such as seeking out diapers for toddlers, loading of passengers, and we even had a member don their red serge [uniform] as they greeted the passengers while discussing policing in Nunavut,” Melanson said.

This isn’t the first time an international flight has been forced to make an emergency landing at Iqaluit’s airport.

Last year, an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to San Francisco stopped briefly after a passenger had a medical emergency.

Previously, a Swiss International Airlines flight from Zurich to Los Angeles in 2017 and a British Airways flight from London to Calgary in 2018 were grounded for aircraft-related issues.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023

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