Sunwing cancels flights to Saskatoon and Regina for a month

Colette Derworiz and Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called Sunwing’s decision to suspend flights from Saskatoon and Regina airports for a month « irresponsible ».

The airline announced on Thursday that it was immediately canceling operations from Saskatchewan’s two international airports until February 3, due to « extenuating circumstances. »

Sunwing says customers who have had their flights south canceled will receive a full refund and those trying to return home will receive further information “shortly”.

In a statement on Friday, Prime Minister Moe called it an « extremely irresponsible decision on the part of Sunwing for anyone who has booked a vacation, especially those who are currently at their destination and don’t know not how and when they will return home”.

Premier Moe explains that although airlines and air travel are federally regulated, Saskatchewan Transportation Minister Jeremy Cockrill has been in contact with Sunwing and with federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra, to request a detailed plan of how and when passengers who have traveled from Saskatchewan will return home.

Sunwing said in its statement Thursday that it initially planned to meet the surge in travel demand from Saskatoon and Regina during the winter by bringing in foreign pilots.

« When the request to deploy foreign pilots was denied, we used charter services to support our operational activities, » says Sunwing. However, the flight conditions and schedules proved to be too important for our partner airlines chartering planes.

Then, “we attempted to reposition Sunwing aircraft to support our operations, but were unable to do so due to flight delays and cancellations caused by recent weather disruptions, as well as high travel demand. during this busy holiday season,” continues the carrier and tour operator.

Sunwing is still trying to repatriate hundreds of travelers from sun destinations like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after winter storms disrupted operations over the Christmas holidays.

Tighten the rules

John Gradek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University, believes the « fiasco » argues for increased government regulation in the industry.

Although many carriers had to cancel flights due to storms, extreme cold and/or freezing rain in the days leading up to Christmas, Sunwing in particular struggled to recover. Professor Gradek explains that this airline is much smaller, with fewer flights to and from its destinations.

A carrier like WestJet or Air Canada would have multiple roundtrip flights per day, and therefore would have more opportunities to transport travelers left behind following a canceled flight. But Sunwing can only fly back and forth a few times a week, he said, and its main option for rescuing passengers is to charter planes from other companies. However, there are not many empty planes waiting to be chartered during the peak Christmas period.

And the situation could get even worse for Sunwing passengers, believes Professor Gradek. Early January is also a busy travel time, and if the weather deteriorates and forces cancellations, Sunwing may have to deal with these passengers in addition to the pre-Christmas backlog.

Gradek said the federal transport minister met with members of the airline industry last month to take stock of a summer of chaos at Canadian airports.

« He basically promised Canadians in November that we wouldn’t have a summer rehearsal over Christmas, » Gradek said. There you go, guess what? We are going through the same thing, and even worse.”

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