Travel chaos at Sunwing not due to staffing, union says: ‘Pilots are available to fly’ – National

The chaos created for travelers with Sunwing Vacations by widespread flight cancellations over the past week has drawn many accusations, but the union representing the airline’s pilots says staffing issues are not to blame.

On Thursday, Sunwing highlighted its plan to add dozens of temporary foreign pilots to its workforce ahead of the busy holiday season as one of the reasons it was forced to suddenly suspend all operations at the two international airports in the Saskatchewan until early February. This decision was opposed by the union and was finally abandoned at the beginning of December.

But Bruce Snow, a national representative for Unifor, said no amount of additional pilots could have prevented the impacts of severe winter weather on Sunwing operations. The airline is also solely responsible for the extended delays travelers face getting home, he added.

« From the perspective of the pilots, the pilots we represent, the pilots are available to fly, » Snow said Friday.

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« This is strictly an operational issue that the company needs to address to ensure that it schedules the flights and schedules pilots to fly the planes. »

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Sunwing said in a statement Friday that it plans to supplement seasonal travel demand from Saskatoon and Regina with the help of temporary foreign pilots for the winter months.

« When the deployment of foreign pilots was not agreed, we brought in sub-services to support our operations, but the conditions and schedule proved to be too tight, » the airline said.

“We attempted to reposition Sunwing aircraft to support them, but were unable to do so due to flight delays and cancellations caused by recent weather disruptions and high demand during the peak holiday period. «

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The airline is still scrambling to get hundreds of passengers home from destinations including Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after winter storms disrupted its holiday operations.

The company said on Friday it has 43 flights scheduled for this week, 34 of which have already operated or will be completed by the end of the day.

In early November, Unifor objected to Sunwing’s use of the federal temporary foreign worker program on security grounds, saying the roughly 65 foreign pilots the airline wanted to hire would come from countries with less stringent training requirements. . Sunwing backtracked a month later.

John Gradek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University in Montreal, said the decision to scrap the staffing plan may have had an impact.

But he agreed that the inability of Sunwing and other airlines to adequately counter winter weather conditions cannot be ignored.

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« This is Canada, » he told Global News in an interview on Friday. « It’s not Barbados. It’s not beautiful, sunny, southern Florida. Snowstorms happen in Canada in the winter.

“The level of disruption…this one is one for the books. This is not a way that I would consider an exemplary way for airlines to deal with snowstorms, and something has to be done.

Click to play video: “Sunwing Passengers Continue to Navigate Baggage Fiasco”

Sunwing passengers continue to navigate baggage fiasco

Gradek added that the chaos this month was particularly glaring after the federal government and airlines promised in November that improvements would be made after travelers also faced long lines, cancellations and poor communication during the summer.

« Lo and behold, all of those wishes of the aviation community just didn’t come true, » he said.

What is needed, he said, is more competition and better federal oversight, including accountability for airlines that prioritize profits and maximize the capacity of their operations and customer service. .

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He said it was time for Ottawa to consider how it can ensure that air carriers can actually deliver on the schedules they promise and sell to the public.

« The system is broken, » he said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre echoed those comments at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government of the « miserable service » Canadians are receiving.

« It’s a federal problem, » Poilievre said.

“The solution, of course, is to have a Canadian Transportation Agency that holds airlines accountable for breaking their word to people. That is why the agency is there, it is a federal agency and it is the machinery of government that is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to make this agency work.

Click to play video: “Poilievre blames Trudeau for airport chaos in Canada and demands accountability from the federal government”

Poilievre blames Trudeau for chaos at airports across Canada, calls for federal accountability

The agency is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that operates at arm’s length from government, so the actions Ottawa can take to address operational issues are limited.

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In response to Poilievre’s criticism on Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s office said travelers’ frustrations over delayed and canceled flights this holiday season are understandable, reiterating what they experienced is « unacceptable ».

WestJet acquisition looms

Spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy did not say in a separate statement Thursday whether the situation would impact Alghabra’s decision whether or not to approve WestJet’s proposed acquisition of Sunwing, which the companies say they expect. to be finalized by spring 2023.

“The public interest assessment has been completed and Minister Alghabra is carefully reviewing the transaction,” Kennedy said.

The Competition Bureau said in October it was concerned about the merger, saying it would likely lead to higher prices and lower service while creating an effective monopoly on at least 16 routes between Canada and Mexico. or the Caribbean. The companies disputed the watchdog’s claims, saying the routes in question represent only a small part of their operations.

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Gradek said there was « no doubt in my mind » that the merger will be approved, and could even prevent a repeat of this holiday season by integrating Sunwing’s system with WestJet’s operations, which are « much more able to handle the winter than those of Sunwing ».

While Air Canada, WestJet and other airlines have also experienced delays and cancellations, Sunwing has experienced greater problems due to its relatively small size, with fewer planes available to repatriate Canadians stranded in Mexico. , Cuba and other vacation hotspots.

Passengers who made it home say their Sunwing flights looked “half empty,” even as hundreds of Canadians remained stranded.

Many say they will think twice before trusting Sunwing with their vacation plans again.

« I’m really going to think about plan B and plan C now for sure when we get out of the country, » said Rod Perkins, who finally returned home to British Columbia on Thursday with his wife Rachelle after the couple was beached one night in Cuba.

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The situation was made more troubling when their flight was canceled after they had already surrendered their visitor visas – leaving them at the mercy of Sunwing, who flew them to a new hotel and then to the airport to undergo more harassment. delays.

« (Going forward, we’ll want to) make sure the worst-case scenario is covered, which it was, » Perkins said.

– with files from Kyle Benning, Neetu Garcha and Teresa Wright of Global, and The Canadian Press


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