Air Canada leaves travelers in limbo amid flight cancellations

When Sarah Ashmore-MacDonald learned that Air Canada would be canceling some summer flights to address delays and general chaos at airports, she immediately checked her emails — she hadn’t seen her parents in two years and had booked flights with her boyfriend. see them in Saint John months ago.

There was nothing in his inbox – a sigh of relief. His flight from Toronto on Thursday night was just hours away.

Then she checked the Air Canada app. This is how she learned that her July 9 return flights had been cancelled. In fact, the trip from Toronto to Fort McMurray was suspended entirely, but not before it departed.

After finally getting an Air Canada agent on the phone, Ashmore-MacDonald said she was told she could request a refund for her flight home, but would have to find her own way home. . This is what she plans to do, but she is frustrated by the short notice and the lack of information.

“It is impossible that this decision was made in one day,” she said. « They could have given people much longer notice. »

As delays, cancellations and long lines continue to plague airports, Canada’s largest airline is facing criticism for cutting its July and August flights by around 15% to reduce the number of passengers, announcing the reductions less than two days before their start.

The airline is cutting flights by an average of 154 per day for July and August, from an average of 1,000 flights per day, already 80% of its pre-pandemic volume. Four routes are temporarily suspended.

According to an email from the airline’s CEO sent to customers on Wednesday evening, the cuts are necessary to reduce volumes and passenger flows

A spokesperson told the Star in an email that most of the canceled flights are to and from Toronto and Montreal airports. Most of the reductions will be reductions in the frequency of certain routes, mainly evening and late night flights by smaller aircraft, on cross-border and domestic routes.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email that customers are automatically notified when their flight is canceled and that process is ongoing as the schedule changes were only put in place. from Wednesday evening.

« Some we are able to book straight away, while for others we will continue to research alternatives and let them know if options become available. Customers can also request a refund to (their) original form of payment at any time,” he said.

According to data from the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), Air Canada – which operates out of Terminal 1 at Pearson – is struggling more than other airlines.

In June, only 33% of Air Canada flights arrived at the gate on time, compared to 46% of flights from other airlines arriving at Terminal 1. Only 30% of flights from Air Canada in June departing from Pearson departed on time, compared to 61% of those of other airlines departing from Terminal 1.

Air Canada has also seen more flights arrive without ground staff – usually airline employees or contractors – on hand to meet them. So far this year, according to GTAA data, 40.3% of Air Canada arrivals have not had a steward on hand to greet them and guide them to the gates. For all commercial flights arriving at Pearson, this figure was 28.5%.

Fitzpatrick said in an email response that because Air Canada is the largest carrier operating out of Pearson, which serves as a global hub, its operations have been hit much harder by airport issues such as aircraft boarding holds and ground delay programs by air. traffic control.

« Such disruptions can disrupt our schedule, » Fitzpatrick said, « because there are repercussions when an aircraft is overdue, as it forces the crew to manage that overdue aircraft for its next mission. »

“Most of the other carriers at Toronto-Pearson … have much less complex schedules and they can recover from any issues more quickly.”

In the email to customers, Air Canada President and CEO Michael Rousseau said people were returning to air travel « at a rate never seen in our industry. »

« To provide the level of operational stability we need, we are reluctantly now making significant reductions to our schedule in July and August to reduce volumes and passenger flows to a level that we believe the system will air transport can accommodate, » he said. wrote.

Other airlines say they are comfortable with their summer schedules and have no plans to cut them further.

WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger said in an email that WestJet had already planned to operate fewer flights this summer than in 2019 by 25%.

“This proactive approach has reduced the overall impacts on our customers when they return to travel this summer,” she said.

Porter also intends to stick to his planned schedule.

“Billy Bishop Airport is performing relatively well compared to major airports and we have resources in place for the period. It will be a busy time, with passenger numbers comparable to 2019,” Porter spokesman Brad Cicero said.

An Air Transat spokesperson said the airline expects no cancellations and plans to deploy 89% of its pre-pandemic capacity over the summer.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and director of McGill University’s global aviation leadership program, said to the airline’s credit that Air Canada basically admitted to booking too many flights.

With the situation at airports only getting worse, « the writing was on the wall, » he said.

However, the airport chaos isn’t just about reservations, Gradek said, and the jury is still out on whether this move by Air Canada will significantly reduce delays, lines and more.

The timing of this announcement is not ideal, said Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism at Toronto Metropolitan University. But that’s no surprise to him. The entire airline industry suffers from a major labor shortage, he said, and not just in Canada.

Weather aside, Dimanche believes it was the right thing for Air Canada to do to mitigate its part in the ongoing airport chaos.

« The situation is not improving, » he said.

Canadian air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said while he was happy the airline acknowledged it had sold too many flights, the damage was already done.

« It’s too little too late, » he said.

Passengers affected by these cancellations should consider them to be within the control of the airline, he said – an important distinction, as what is owed to a passenger by the airline differs for cancellations outside the control of the airline. the airline under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR).

Lukacs explained that if a flight is canceled for reasons beyond the airline’s control, the airline must offer alternative travel arrangements to get the passenger to their destination as soon as possible. This may include rebooking the passenger on the next flight, rebooking a flight with another competing carrier, and even transportation to another airport if required. The traveler can instead choose to be reimbursed for the unused portion of the ticket.

Additionally, passengers who choose a refund must pay an additional compensation of $400 if the airline is a large carrier or $125 for a small carrier. Passengers who have received less than two weeks’ notice and choose alternative travel arrangements receive variable compensation depending on the length of the delay.

Gradek, Dimanche and Lukacs all say that in this case those cancellations are within the control of the airline.

If the airline disagrees, Gradek recommends going to the Canadian Transportation Agency, while Lukacs suggests small claims court.

Fitzpatrick said Air Canada will meet its obligations under the APPR.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said it welcomes Air Canada’s decision.

« Air Canada is following the lead of other major airlines around the world, who have also recognized the need to adjust schedules in light of the unprecedented challenges facing the industry post-COVID, » the carrier said. GTAA spokesperson Ryan White in an email.

However, for a tourism industry that was finally looking forward to some semblance of normality this summer after more than two years of the pandemic, the cancellations have been devastating.

« To be honest, it feels like a kick in the balls, » said Chris Bloore, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. « It’s another blow to the idea of ​​travel returning to normal. »

With files from Ande Fraske-Bornyk and The Canadian Press


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