Transat AT Inc. has cancelled almost 30 per cent of its flights into February, blaming poor sales owing to the new wave of the pandemic and government restrictions on travel.
The Montreal-based operator of Air Transat said on Thursday it is contacting affected customers and will try to rebook their trips or offer refunds.
Transat said its schedule has been cut until Feb. 25, and more changes could be made.
“The lingering effects of the Omicron variant and the restrictive measures put in place by the federal government on December 15th have had an impact on our customers’ reservations and cancellation requests,” Pierre Tessier, a spokesman for Transat, said in an e-mail. “These cancellations affected some of our flights where profitability was affected by low load factors.” He declined to say how many flights are cut, and to which destinations.
Transat’s move follows similar steps taken by rivals Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd.
WestJet has cut its schedule by 15 per cent, or almost 70 flights a day. Air Canada has also dropped hundreds of flights from its schedule over the past few days. Additionally, Air Canada will suspend flights to 16 Caribbean destinations, including Antigua, Aruba and Samana in the Dominican Republic, from Jan. 24 to April 30. The airline said it will operate flights to Canada from the sun destinations “to help ensure that Canadians are not stranded abroad.”
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the suspensions affect about 7 per cent of customers, who will be offered their money back or alternative destinations. Flights to 23 other tropical destinations, including Mexico, are still on, he said.
The federal government on Dec. 15 warned people not to travel unnecessarily as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 began sweeping through Canada and much of the Europe and the United States. All people age 12 and older travelling within or departing Canada by plane or train must be fully vaccinated. Travellers arriving from places other than the United States are subject to COVID-19 testing.
On top of low demand for airfares, airlines are also facing staff shortages because of sick or isolating employees.
The long list of cancellations paired with the numbers of would-be travellers who want to put off their trips have left the airlines’ call centres swamped with inquiries, and customers complaining of being left on hold for several hours.
Kathryn Elvidge was flying home to Calgary on Jan. 1 after visiting family in Ottawa. Her Flair Airlines flight was scheduled to leave at 7:15 a.m. but was repeatedly delayed and eventually cancelled at 11:30 a.m. “The Flair employee told us they were waiting for a crew,” Ms. Elvidge said. “People were starting to get pretty agitated.”
She lined up at the Flair counter for 90 minutes to request a refund for the $681 she and her companion spent on the tickets. She was told it would be provided in 24 hours but is still waiting.
She flew home that day on an Air Canada flight, at a cost of almost $1,700 for both tickets, and has asked Flair to reimburse her for this and other expenses.
A Flair spokeswoman was unable to immediately comment.
Brian Shea, who lives near Cobourg, Ont., booked a February flight on Air Canada to the Dominican Republic a year ago, figuring the pandemic would be over and travel would be safe by now. He changed his mind amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. But when he went to Air Canada’s website to delay his trip, he found his flight was cancelled. He has not been notified by the airline, and said getting through by phone is impossible.
“Who would ever think they would cancel a flight and not tell you?” Mr. Shea said.
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