Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Sunwing and more: The latest updates amid the coronavirus pandemic

From TravelWeek – link to source story

12 January 2021 Update | Posted by Travelweek Group

TORONTO — Canada’s airlines took swift action amid border closures and travel restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s the latest from Canada’s airlines. This list is updated as we receive new information from each company. The latest information can always be found at the company’s website.

LATEST UPDATE: Jan.12 – Porter Airlines; Dec. 17 – WestJet; Dec. 14 – Sunwing; Dec. 3 – Air Canada


AIR CANADA

UPDATED DEC. 3: Air Canada says Aeroplan Members making an eligible new booking with Air Canada originating in Canada will receive complimentary Manulife COVID-19 Emergency Medical and Quarantine Insurance. The shift to offer the free coverage to only Aeroplan members took effect Dec. 1, for bookings made Dec. 1, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2020. Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is free to join.


FLAIR AIRLINES

UPDATED JUNE 4: Flair Airlines has announced that it will resume service to Kelowna and Winnipeg while delaying the launch of other destinations as part of its new summer schedule. Its current route schedule will be expanded to include both Kelowna and Winnipeg in addition to Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. However, as a result of ongoing travel restrictions, Flair will also be delaying the launch of service into Ottawa and Atlantic Canada. Full refunds are being offered to passengers booked on cancelled flights to the affected destinations: Ottawa, Halifax, Saint John, N.B., and Charlottetown. Impacted guests will be contacted through email with instructions on how to receive their refunds. The airline’s latest change policies are at https://flyflair.com/travel-info/customer-service/covid-19-updates.


PORTER AIRLINES

UPDATED JAN. 12: Porter Airlines has pushed back its planned restart date to March 29. The airline previously suspended operations until Feb. 11 but according to president and CEO Michael Deluce, more time is needed as COVID-19 vaccine rollouts continue across Canada. More details are here.


SUNWING

UPDATED DEC. 14: Sunwing has restarted its winter sun program with current gateways Toronto and Montreal, and destinations Cancun, Jamaica and Punta Cana. Sunwing is also adding sun flights out of Western Canada.  Flights will depart from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton to Cancun on Saturdays starting Jan. 9, 2021, with additional flight service from Edmonton to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan on  Saturdays starting Dec. 26, 2020.

Sunwing has also resumed flights to Cuba, onboard Sunwing Airlines, with weekly flights departing from Toronto and Montreal to Varadero.

Sunwing’s flexible booking options include the option to change or cancel travel plans anytime with ease, monthly payment options and complimentary Price Drop Cash Back of up to $800 per couple. Plus, select packages booked during the sale for departures between now and Dec. 31, 2021 include COVID-19 coverage at no additional cost.

Sunwing customers with departure dates for flights or vacation packages between March 17 and August 31 are eligible to receive a future travel credit in the value of the original amount paid. No action needed. The credit can be redeemed against future travel to anywhere Sunwing Airlines operates, depending on original departure date. Original departure dates between March 17 and May 31, 2020 are redeemable up to June 20, 2022. Original departure dates June 1 – August 31 2020, are redeemable up to August 31, 2022.

For the most up to date information see https://www.sunwing.ca/en/promotion/packages/travel-advisory/.


SWOOP

UPDATED NOV. 16: Swoop is now offering ‘Trustred Travel Getaways’, a limited offering of vacation packages to Montego Bay with departures from Toronto starting Dec. 19. Swoop’s packages are in partnership with IHG Hotels & Resorts, with accommodation at the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay All-Inclusive. Free access to mandatory pre-travel COVID-19 testing will ensure that all passengers onboard a departing Trusted Travel Getaway flight have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Flights will operate from Toronto to Montego Bay on Dec. 19, Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. Packages include and Swoop’s free TuGo Travel Insurance COVID-19 coverage.


TRANSAT

UPDATED SEPT. 28: Transat passengers can now benefit from a COVID-19 Emergency Medical Certificate of Insurance. The insurance plan, offered through Manulife, is designed to cover emergency medical and quarantine expenses at destination, in addition to providing assistance if COVID-19 is contracted during the trip. Passengers who book a roundtrip flight from Canada to an international Air Transat destination or a Transat package to Mexico, Central or South America, or the Caribbean, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31, 2020, for stays of up to 21 days, for departures between Oct. 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021, will be covered by the new insurance at no extra cost.

Transat’s 2020-2021 winter program features flights to dozens of destinations as well as packages to hundreds of hotels in the South and Europe. Earlier Transat announced that it had suspended all flights from Western Canada to south and USA destinations for winter 2020-2021. Transat announced on July 22 that its FTCs are now fully transferable, with no expiry date. As before, any residual credit will remain on file. The new policy applies to flights, packages and guided tours. However, it excludes credits received for cruises that are subject to their own cruise lines’ conditions. More information for Transat can be found  at https://www.airtransat.com/en-CA/book/resumption-of-our-operations#%2Fresults.


WESTJET

UPDATED DEC. 17: WestJet has updated its January 2021 schedule, with flights to 57 destinations in the Caribbean, Europe, Central America, Canada and the United States, including Hawaii. In addition to flights to Liberia in Costa Rica, and Ixtapa/Ziuantanejo in Mexico, both from Calgary, January’s schedule also features the resumption of service between Kona, Hawaii and Vancouver as well as Aruba-Toronto. Dreamliner service between Calgary and Cancun kicks off on Jan. 8, 2021 while service to Puerto Vallarta will start Jan. 23.

Through TuGo, any WestJet air-only reservation including WestJet Vacations bookings for travel to and from Mexico, the Caribbean,  the U.S., Europe (including the U.K.) and inbound to Canada will provide eligible passengers no-charge COVID-19 travel insurance.

On Oct. 21 WestJet announced it will voluntarily provide refunds to original form of payment for guests with flights cancelled by WestJet and Swoop, from any time period, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found here.

Earlier WestJet announced it was offering refunds for select flights that include a U.S. or UK destination. The refunds apply to U.S. and UK flights March 1 – June 30. On Sept. 15 it added Europe to its refund-eligible list, for flights to or from Europe and scheduled to depart between March 1 and Oct. 31.

Effective Nov. 2 all WestJet flights to and from Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City will be suspended indefinitely. Service to and from Halifax and St. John’s will see cuts. All told the move will impact more than 100 flights per week, or almost 80% of seat capacity from the Atlantic region. WestJet says a return to service date is unknown at this time. Passengers impacted by the suspension of operations will be contacted directly regarding their options for travel to and from the region.

Airlines call on federal government to delay rollout of pre-departure COVID-19 tests

From CBC News – link to source story

‘Minister, we have very serious concerns,’ says a letter from airlines and industry associations

Ashley Burke · CBC News · Posted: Jan 05, 2021

Airlines are pushing back against the timing of the government’s plan for pre-departure COVID-19 testing for travellers returning to Canada. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Just days before the government is set to roll out mandatory pre-departure COVID-19 testing for travellers returning to Canada, the CEOs of the country’s largest airlines are calling on Transport Minister Marc Garneau to delay the rollout until later this month, CBC News has learned.

The heads of Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing — along with two major trade associations, the International Air Transportation Association and National Airlines Council of Canada — recently sent a letter to Garneau warning him that the federal government’s timeline for implementing the testing protocol isn’t feasible.

The carriers are proposing that the new rules — due to take effect on Thursday — should instead kick in on January 18.

“Minister, we have very serious concerns about the feasibility of successfully implementing such a significant measure in the extremely short time[frame] announced, without consultation or a coordinated plan,” reads the letter to Garneau, obtained by CBC News.

The government announced the new testing regime last week, following multiple reports of individual Canadians — including political figures — travelling abroad for the holidays in defiance of government advisories against non-essential travel.

The new requirements could discourage travel at a time when the airline industry is struggling with a dramatic drop in traffic. The rules that come into effect on Jan. 7 say that travellers five years of age or older must receive a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — the standard nose swab test for detecting active COVID-19 infections — within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada.

Airlines say they weren’t consulted about the new policy before it was announced. In their letter to Garneau, they argue the new rules create a “real risk that Canadians will now be stranded abroad” and say they’ve heard from thousands of Canadians alarmed by the possibility.

“With the current timeframes and lack of clarity and detail, we must note particular concern over the very real prospect of Canadians of all ages being denied boarding and stranded at destination, in the current context of significantly reduced flight frequencies and over‐stretched airline, government and consular resources due to the pandemic,” said the letter.

Some Canadians can still board planes without COVID-19 tests

Garneau said last week, however, that if travellers can show they couldn’t obtain COVID-19 tests abroad, they can still board flights home — but they’ll need to quarantine in a federally-regulated facility in Canada.

Travellers in countries where testing is available are required to show documentation of a negative test result to airlines prior to boarding a flight to Canada, said Garneau.

In a statement today, the minister’s office reminded Canadians that travel restrictions and measures can change on short notice. The office said Garneau plans to implement the changes as planned on Jan. 7 at 12:01 am ET as an “additional layer of protection for Canadians.”

“We are reaching dangerous case numbers in areas across the country and we cannot afford to stop the important work being done to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” said Garneau’s press secretary Allison St-Jean.

“Despite a challenging environment, airlines have played an important role since the beginning of the fight against COVID-19 and we are confident they will continue to do so.”

The airlines say in the letter that they were “perplexed that airline and tour operators were not consulted” first, since they’ll be expected to implement the new rules and they only have draft guidance from the federal government on how to proceed.

“Minister, at the time of writing this letter, mere days before going into force, the Interim Order elaborating the new measure has yet to be finalized and only preliminary draft guidance material is available,” says the letter. 

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is being warned by the airline industry that the federal government’s rapid introduction of airport testing risks stranding Canadians abroad. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Airline industry called for testing at Canadian airports for months

The new rules come after the airline industry spent months calling on the federal government to conduct COVID-19 testing at airports in Canada.

“… our industry has invested in and publicly advocated for rational testing protocols, such as arrival testing in Canada where the quality and consistency of testing can be properly regulated and controlled,” said the letter.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News on Dec. 30 that other provinces have spoken to the federal government about duplicating a pilot project in Alberta. The program — a partnership between Alberta and the federal government — allows eligible international travellers to take a COVID-19 test at one of two border crossings in the province: the Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing.

Travellers whose tests come back negative can leave quarantine as long as they remain in Alberta for 14 days. They also must obtain a second test six or seven days after arrival at a participating community pharmacy.

LeBlanc said the federal government doesn’t have enough data from the pilot yet to determine whether a shortened quarantine period is sound health policy.

Updates from airlines ahead of Jan. 7 COVID test rule; IATA blasts Ottawa

From Travel Week – link to source story

Monday, January 4, 2021 | Posted by Kathryn Folliott

TORONTO — Canada’s airlines are providing new information to help passengers secure PCR tests for COVID-19 in the wake of the federal government’s new requirement, effective Jan. 7, that all passengers arriving in or returning to Canada must present proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their scheduled departure.

The new rule applies to all passengers ages 5 and up and results must be shown to airline representatives before boarding the flight.

Airlines including Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Transat have all posted updates to their websites with the new requirement, as well as resources to help passengers get their PCR tests done.

Here’s a list of info pages:

  • For Air Canada, click here.
  • For WestJet, click here.
  • For Sunwing, click here.
  • For Transat, click here.

As the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) pointed out in the wake of Ottawa’s Dec. 30 announcement, Canada’s airlines have been calling on the government for months to introduce a coordinated and systematic testing regime, in conjunction with industry, “in order to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout of testing requirements,” said NACC President and CEO Mike McNaney.

McNaney added that the Dec. 30 announcement “occurred without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined.”

Late in the afternoon on Dec. 31, the federal government announced that the new rule would take effect Jan. 7, and that the 14-day quarantine would remain in place.

WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart told Travelweek that in addition to building out the new webpage with the requirements, WestJet has also sent an email to all passengers with near-term itineraries to ensure they are aware of requirements. “We still have little detail so are doing our best to ensure our guests are aware and armed with as much information as we have at this time,” said Stewart.

Sunwing also issued a statement, telling Travelweek: “Our customers are extremely important for Sunwing. That’s why we strive to provide consistent, regular updates on the new testing requirements that are being mandated by the Canadian government, all in an effort to be transparent and ensure their experience is as frictionless as possible. We also rely on our Sunwing representatives in destination to offer firsthand support to customers – in person and via the Sunwing app – to address any questions or concerns they may have about the evolving travel and testing requirements. This includes helping customers find a PCR testing facility, along with arranging transportation to and from the facility, should it be required. While we will continue to update our customers as we receive further updates from the government, we also encourage travellers to visit travel.gc.ca for more information on the new testing requirements.”

IATA BLASTS CANADA’S NEW COVID RULE

On Jan. 2 IATA posted a Canada-specific statement, expressing “deep frustration” with the new COVID-19 pre-testing requirement. 

“While the industry for months has been calling for systematic testing to re-open borders without quarantine measures, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears, especially in Canada. Now, in a decision that can only be described as the ‘worst of both worlds’, the government is mandating that passengers provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours before planned departure to Canada, while at the same time declining to lift existing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.”

IATA goes on to say: “It is both callous and impractical to impose this new requirement on travellers at such short notice. Moreover, it is completely unrealistic to mandate that airlines check passengers’ compliance with the new rule, as it cannot be the airline’s role to determine if a passenger tried their utmost to get tested or not.

“Canada already has one the world’s most draconian COVID-19 border control regimes, including travel bans and quarantines. Even though COVID-19 testing is an internationally accepted risk-mitigation strategy, there are no plans to adjust the current 14-day quarantine rule nor eliminate the temperature checks airlines are required to perform on passengers wishing to travel to Canada. Moreover, no explanation has been provided as to why a PCR test is the only acceptable test, given that this is not readily available in many countries.”

IATA notes that the severe economic consequences of Canada’s prolonged border closure are already evident. The aviation sector’s direct GDP contribution to Canada’s economy dropped by an estimated US$10.39 billion in 2020 compared to 2019, putting 146,000 Canadian jobs at risk. The year-on-year fall in GDP contribution to the wider travel and tourism economy is estimated at US$21.29 billion with some 286,000 jobs at risk.

IATA says Canada must focus on a well-planned and coordinated introduction of testing inbound travellers as a way forward, and as a replacement for quarantine measures. 

“At current infection levels, testing travellers will ensure that opening borders will not pose additional risk of contagion in Canada. We challenge the government to prove otherwise,” says IATA.

IATA is calling on the Canadian government to postpone the Jan. 7 start date until it has further developed testing requirements, and coordinated with the airline industry to achieve realistic implementation timelines. The Canadian government must also develop a policy roadmap to safely re-open borders by managing the risk of contagion with testing as a replacement for quarantine measures.

“We need to start 2021 by taking steps to safely live with COVID-19,” says IATA. “What is the point of implementing testing if it does not result in a lifting of border closures nor quarantine requirements? After nine months of closed borders and confinement, we cannot afford to move in the wrong direction with the disastrous implementation of a counter-productive testing policy.”

Sunwing launches early Boxing Week Sale with huge savings of up to 50% on winter vacations

Canadians can say goodbye to 2020 and usher in the new year with a tropical getaway for less

TORONTO, Dec. 18, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) —

Sunwing is helping customers kick 2020 to the curb by launching their popular Boxing Week Sale early. Starting today, the tour operator is offering some of the best savings of the year with up to 50% off January departures so sun-seekers can start 2021 in paradise. With the sale ending on December 30, 2020, travellers will want to act fast to secure their new year getaway to the tropics for less.

“As 2020 comes to an end, plenty of Canadians are looking forward to celebrating the start of a new year and getting back to travel safely and responsibly,” said Andrew Dawson, President of Tour Operations for Sunwing. “We’re helping our customers return to paradise for less in 2021 by launching our popular Boxing Week Sale early. Sun-seekers can take advantage of savings on vacation packages to some of the most popular tropical destinations, including great deals on solo travel and extended two-week stays.”

Travellers can plan the luxury vacation of their dreams for less at Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa. This resort offers All-In Luxury™ getaways on the pristine shores of Riviera Maya with world-class service and convenient amenities. Guests can kick off the new year as they lounge by one of the sprawling pools with convenient wait service and dine on gourmet fare at al fresco restaurants. They can also upgrade their office and work or study from the beach with deals on packages for 14 nights or more.

Those planning an adults only getaway can save big at Riu Republica, a top-rated adult resort located on the world-famous beaches of Punta Cana. The property is home to the only water park exclusively for adults in the Caribbean, so vacationers can make new memories together as they say goodbye to 2020. Sunwing guests can take their travel budget even further with exclusive RIU-topia inclusions like unlimited reservation-free dining, and no single supplement fees for solo travellers.

Another popular beach resort included in the sale is Grand Memories Varadero. This Sunwing favourite resort in Cuba offers something for everyone and is the perfect spot for those looking to unwind after a difficult year. Guests can enjoy some much-deserved rest and relaxation by one of the sparkling pools and feel the stress of 2020 melt away as they treat themselves to a massage at the on-site spa.

Canadians can book with peace of mind knowing the highest health and safety standards are in place every step of the way with the Safe with Sunwing commitment, designed under the advisement of global healthcare leader Medcan. Customers can also take advantage of flexible booking options, including the option to change or cancel their plans anytime with ease, monthly payment options and complimentary Price Drop Cash Back of up to $800 per couple. Plus, select packages booked during the sale for departures between now and December 31, 2021 include COVID-19 coverage at no additional cost.

Sunwing announces restart of flights to Cuba with weekly service to Varadero

TORONTO, Dec. 11, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunwing has announced that flight service to Cuba will resume on December 13, 2020, on board Sunwing Airlines, with weekly flights departing from Toronto and Montreal to Varadero on Sundays. Vacationers can return to this Canadian-favourite destination and travel with peace of mind knowing that the highest Canadian standards are in place throughout their entire vacation experience with the Safe with Sunwing commitment, created under the advisement of global healthcare leader Medcan.

“Our customers have been eagerly awaiting our return to Cuba and we’re excited to be bringing them back to this popular island under our wing,” said Samantha Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer at Sunwing Travel Group. “Cuba has been a favourite vacation destination of Canadian travellers for over 50 years. We have brought many Canadians to this beautiful destination in the past and we’re happy to help sun-seekers make their much-anticipated return to Cuba safely and responsibly.”

Canadians make up a vast majority of Cuba tourist arrivals when compared to all countries, and with the country’s crystal-clear waters, rich history and white-sand shores it’s easy to see why. Sunwing brings more vacationers to Cuba annually than any other tour operator in the world, and the destination is one of the most popular among the tour operator’s vacation portfolio.

There are Cuban vacation packages for every style. Travellers planning a family-friendly vacation can choose to stay at Iberostar Selection Bella Vista Varadero, a Sunwing favourite resort that overlooks a pristine stretch of white-sand beach with plenty of exciting activities and convenient amenities. The property even offers rare swim-out suites, perfect for families that can’t get enough of the pool.

Vacationers looking for an adults only option can plan a getaway to Sanctuary at Grand Memories Varadero. This resort-within-a-resort is located just steps from the beach and offers exclusive facilities like a pool, restaurant and beach area with wait service. Guests can look forward to personalized butler service throughout their stay and enjoy full access to the wider Grand Memories Varadero complex.

Another popular choice on the white-sand shores of the Hicacos Peninsula is Starfish Varadero. This laidback resort offers plenty of fun in the sun with resort-offered activities like Spanish lessons, snorkelling and dance classes. Plus, downtown Varadero is just a short walk away where guests can embrace the local Cuban culture as they explore local shops and charming restaurants.

Vacationers can choose from flexible booking options including the ability to change or cancel their plans anytime with ease, convenient monthly payment options and complimentary Price Drop Cash Back of up to $800 per couple. Complimentary COVID-19 coverage is also included in packages booked by December 31, 2020, for departures between now and December 31, 2021.

As passengers pushed for refunds, Air Canada got more than $400 million from wage subsidy

From CBC News – link to source story and VIDEO

Airline received most aid among publicly traded companies that have disclosed finances to date

Ashley Burke, Madeline McNair · CBC News · Posted: Dec 06, 2020

Air Canada tapped into hundreds of millions of dollars in government support to pay its employees a percentage of their wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

This story is part of The Big Spend, a CBC News investigation examining the unprecedented $240 billion the federal government handed out during the first eight months of the pandemic.

Air Canada has received the largest amount of government pandemic aid of all publicly traded companies in Canada that have disclosed their finances to shareholders to date, a CBC News investigation has found.

The country’s largest airline reported that it collected $492 million in public funds through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to pay its employees over a period ending Sept. 30, according to Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchanges filings.

According to CBC’s findings from information posted to date, that’s roughly four times more than the second-highest sum paid to a publicly traded company through the wage subsidy, which went to Imperial Oil. The Calgary-based energy giant disclosed it received $120 million from CEWS. Linamar, a large automobile parts manufacturer, and Air Transat also received more than $100 million each to help cover salaries.

Air Canada said that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it employed about 40,000 people — making it one of the “larger private sector employers in Canada” in an industry hit “disproportionately hard” by the pandemic.

“Put simply, we are by far the biggest company in perhaps the worst industry,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick wrote in a statement issued to CBC News. 

Despite Air Canada receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to pay its workers, the air carrier is in the midst of private negotiations with the federal government on a possible industry-specific support package. Some experts argue the carrier is using travellers’ demands for refunds for cancelled flights as leverage to pressure the government during the negotiations.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s global aviation leadership program, claims the airline industry is “bullying” the government into bailing out the sector, arguing that other countries have already done so. He said Air Canada is playing a “shell game” of its own.

“I think it’s a little bit of gamesmanship that’s being played by Air Canada,” Gradek said. “They’re insisting that those refunds will only be processed if the Canadian government, through the Canadian taxpayer, is providing the funds for those refunds. Not a good thing.”

WATCH | John Gradek on Air Canada pandemic aid and fare refunds:

‘The Canadian aviation industry is really bullying the government,’ said former Air Canada executive.
John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University, says the airline industry is arguing it’s time for the government to bail out struggling airlines since other countries have done so

400 private companies reviewed by CBC

CBC News analyzed data from more than 2,000 publicly traded companies listed on the TSX and TSX venture exchanges and identified 400 businesses that have already filed public disclosures indicating they received taxpayer support.

While the figures reviewed by CBC News indicate Air Canada has received the most taxpayer-funded pandemic support of any company to date, there could still be other companies that have received more and have not yet publicly disclosed the sums.

WestJet, Sunwing, Porter Airlines and Flair Airlines all received the wage subsidy to help cover their payrolls; none of them trade on the TSX and none of them have disclosed to CBC News the amount of money they received. Chorus Aviation, which owns regional airlines Jazz and Voyageur, received almost $97 million through the wage subsidy, according to TSX filings. 

In total, the federal government spent $1.4 billion helping Canadian airlines pay up to 75 per cent of employee wages during the pandemic, according to the federal government’s fall economic update, released last week.

‘The biggest company in perhaps the worst industry’

No one from Air Canada would sit for an interview with CBC News. In a media statement, the airline said it received a substantial amount for the wage subsidy because it employs so many people, and “as much as 95 per cent of our revenue disappearing virtually overnight, which is why the government is now looking at specific sectoral support for our industry, just as governments around the world have already done for their airlines.”

“Given this, it is only to be expected that we are a relatively large user of CEWS — our next biggest domestic competitor was less than one-third our size in terms of employees at the outset of COVID,” Fitzpatrick said.

As the pandemic crushes airline industry revenue, passengers — many of them struggling financially — have been angrily demanding that the federal government force airlines to refund them for cancelled flights.

More than 100,000 Canadians have joined petitions calling for government action on refunds, and several class-action lawsuits have been filed against airlines.

Air Canada holding $2.3B in revenue from ticket sales

Air Canada’s president and CEO, Calin Rovinescu, told Bloomberg News earlier this month that despite the financial hit, his airline has already paid back $1.2 billion in refundable airfares. 

Rovinescu told Bloomberg on Nov. 18 that he has “no quarrel” at all with refunding customers for non-refundable flights, “assuming that the terms of the support package are adequate and the terms are appropriate and reasonable.”

Air Canada has reported that, as of the end of September, it had $2.3 billion in revenue on hand from ticket sales — about 65 per cent of which came from non-refundable fares.

Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu told Bloomberg earlier this month it had one of the strongest balance sheets in the global airline industry heading into the pandemic. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Gradek argues that Air Canada has the money to pay the refunds but is using it as a bargaining chip in bailout negotiations with the federal government.

“Air Canada does have the cash,” he said, pointing to the airline’s $8 billion in unrestricted liquidity as of September. “Air Canada does not need government funding in order for it to process those refunds.”

No more sectoral support without refunds, says Garneau

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he has made it clear to airlines that they must pay out the refunds before they can get any more government aid.

“We said very clearly no — until they commit in writing to refund passengers, they will not get a cent from the Canadian government,” he said.

When asked by CBC News whether Ottawa would allow airlines to use taxpayer dollars to refund passengers, Garneau said he would not go into details since the negotiations with the airlines are confidential.

But he did suggest that if airlines meet the government’s requirements for financial support and commit in writing to refunding passengers, carriers could qualify for help. The government has imposed conditions on bailing out air carriers that require them to issue refunds, maintain air connections throughout Canada and honour any orders placed with Canadian aerospace companies.

“It takes a while to do that refunding because there are quite a few passengers, but once the refund agreement is signed — a very specific undertaking by both sides — then they’ll be in a position to receive our assistance as they begin the refunding process,” Garneau said.

WATCH | Transport Minister Marc Garneau on sectoral aid for airlines:

‘They will not get a cent’ until airlines commit to customer refunds, says Transport Minister Marc Garneau

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government is currently in confidential talks with major airlines about an industry-specific aid package contingent on a number of strict conditions.

‘I’m extremely upset about it’

Air Canada customer Calvin Hill said he feels like a “hostage.” 

He and his wife said they can’t afford rent in Medicine Hat, Alta., because they’re out $4,000 for Air Canada flights they never took. They say they’re sleeping in their daughter’s basement.

“I’m extremely upset about it,” Hill said. “Then to find out that the airlines want to turn around and have us Canadian taxpayers bail them out while they refuse to turn around and refund the monies back to us  — it’s very upsetting.”

Hill, who retired last year, planned to take the trip of a lifetime to Asia with his wife. Then the pandemic hit and the government told all Canadians to come home in March. 

Air Canada wouldn’t allow the couple to board their original flights out of Bangkok to get home due to travel restrictions on one of their layovers, Hill said. As a result, he and his wife had to pay for flights home with another carrier.

Hill claims an Air Canada agent promised to refund their tickets, but he’s still fighting for the money more than eight months later. He said he’s out roughly four months’ rent.

“They’re holding us as people with outstanding vouchers or refunds hostage unless we tell them, ‘Well, you give me a dollar in my left hand and I’ll give you a dollar back in my right hand to pay for it,'” he said. “Which I think is ridiculous.”

Calvin Hill and his wife Janice have been fighting for months for a refund for Air Canada flights they couldn’t board. (Submitted)

Major gap in Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations

Air Canada said it’s offering non-refundable ticket holders travel credits with no expiry date that can be transferred to others or to “convert their booking to Aeroplan points and with an additional 65 per cent bonus.”The airline said this option is in line with direction given by the Canadian Transportation Agency. 

Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency, testified in front of MPs last week that there is a gap in Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations that no one saw coming. Canadian airlines are not obligated to refund passengers if cancellations are out of a carrier’s control, he said. 

“[The regulations] refund obligation applies exclusively to flight cancellations within airlines controls,” Streiner told the transport committee on Dec 1. “We now know the gap highlighted by the pandemic is significant.”

Streiner said if and when the CTA gets authority to fix that gap, “we’ll fix it.”

In contrast, Air Canada is offering customers who flew out of Europe a refund for non-refundable tickets after “extensive discussions” with European Union members. 

Air Canada in talks with government

Air Canada’s third-quarter results report to investors shows the dramatic impact the pandemic has had on the company. The airline says it saw an 88 per cent drop in passenger traffic due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.

The airline did earn $757 million in the third quarter, but that represented an 86 per cent drop of $4.7 billion from its earnings in the same time period in 2019. 

Bleeding cash, Air Canada took what it called “the painful step” of cutting half of its workforce in June — 20,000 jobs — and indefinitely suspended 30 domestic regional routes. The carrier also retired some planes early and postponed or cancelled the delivery of some new aircraft, according to the company’s financial records.

Wesley Lesosky is the president of the Air Canada component of CUPE, which represents 6,000 laid-off flight attendants. He said Air Canada should have kept those people employed through the wage subsidy program, as other airlines did. 

Lesosky is also the president of the union’s airline division, which represents 15,000 flight attendants at other airlines, including Air Transat, Sunwing and WestJet. 

“If the government’s going to give an employer that amount of assistance, which is quite high, it should have conditions tied to it where the workers are actually protected,” he said.

Air Canada, meanwhile, told CBC News that Canada is “somewhat of an outlier among developed nations in not having a targeted, sectoral support program for the aviation industry.”

The carrier points to the International Air Transport Association’s chief economist, who stated recently that more than $160 billion US in government aid has gone to airlines globally.

The U.S. and some European countries have given billions in financial aid to airlines. In some cases, there were strings attached to that aid, such as governments taking  equity stakes in the airlines and requiring them to issue refunds.

New survey reveals 55% of Canadians have a future vacation on their holiday wish list

Sunwing helps Canadians gift an unforgettable vacation experience this holiday season

TORONTO, Dec. 03, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — As the holiday season begins, new research commissioned by Sunwing shows a growing appetite among Canadians for receiving the gift of a vacation experience.

Vacation Gifting

New research commissioned by Sunwing shows that a growing number of Canadians would like to receive the gift of a vacation experience this holiday season.

The survey uncovered that more than half (55%) of Canadians would like to receive the gift of a future vacation or travel certificate this holiday season. What’s more, of those respondents, nine-in-ten (89%) indicated they would be interested in being gifted an all inclusive getaway. The survey was conducted by Sunwing among members of the Angus Reid Forum between November 16-17, 2020, with a representative sample of 1,507 Canadians, in both English and French.

“Our research shows that many Canadians would love to receive the gift of a future vacation experience this holiday season,” said Samantha Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer of Sunwing Travel Group. “Sunwing is helping Canadians make giving the gift of a sunny getaway easy with a wide range of packages at unbeatable prices, so our customers can experience a truly unforgettable vacation to the tropics under our wing.”

Additional survey insights include:

  • 18-34 year olds were most interested in receiving a future travel gift, with 59% of respondents in that age bracket indicating they would be open to being gifted a future vacation or travel certificate this holiday season;
  • Respondents from Alberta (64%), British Columbia (58%) and Quebec (57%) were most interested in receiving a vacation gift this holiday season;
  • Among 35-54 year olds who said they wanted to receive a future vacation gift this holiday season, 93% said they would want an all inclusive vacation;
  • Among Ontarians who said they wanted to receive a vacation gift this holiday season, 93% indicated they would like to receive an all inclusive getaway.

Canadians can check everyone off their gift list with packages tailored towards all travel styles, whether they’re shopping for a romantic retreat or an adventure-filled getaway. Those looking for the perfect gift can also take advantage of impressive savings on vacation packages throughout the month of December.

Customers who book a future getaway can travel with peace of mind, knowing that the highest Canadian standards are in place throughout their entire vacation experience with the Safe with Sunwing commitment. Developed under the advisement of global healthcare leader Medcan, the program is in place every step of the way, from the moment travellers check-in at the airport to their transfers, their time in destination and their journey home, making for a safe and unforgettable getaway to the tropics.

To learn more about how you can gift a vacation experience this holiday season please visit Sunwing’s website.

Sunwing announces winter flight schedule from Western Canada

Tour operator offers massive Cyber Week savings on packages from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton

Puerto Vallarta
Sunwing announces recommencement of services from three major cities in Western Canada; including flights from Edmonton to Puerto Vallarta (pictured).

TORONTO, Dec. 01, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunwing is pleased to announce the recommencement of service from three of Western Canada’s major cities. The initial program from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary will operate to selected destinations for the winter season using a combination of seats contracted from third party carriers as well as Sunwing Airlines. Flights will depart from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton to Cancun on Saturdays starting January 9, 2021, with additional flight service from Edmonton to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán on Saturdays starting December 26, 2020.

“We are thrilled to be resuming flight service from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton,” said Andrew Dawson, President of Tour Operations for Sunwing. “Western Canada is a very important market for us and we’re committed to providing our customers on the west coast with convenient vacation packages to sunny destinations. We’re looking forward to bringing more Canadians back to paradise under our wing, and being able to offer more vacation choices as the season progresses.”

To help residents of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton head back to paradise, the tour operator is offering incredible savings on select vacation packages with their Cyber Week Sale. For a limited time, sun-seekers can save up to 50% on their winter vacation package to a popular tropical destination with flights on board Sunwing Airlines or third-party carriers. Plus, vacationers can travel with peace of mind knowing that the highest Canadian health and safety standards are in place throughout their entire vacation experience with the Safe with Sunwing commitment, developed under the advisement of global healthcare leader Medcan.

Packages start from as low as $1,525 per person (including taxes, based on double occupancy) for a 7-night stay at Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa in a Luxury Junior Suite departing on January 9, 2021, from Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver. This top-rated luxury resort is located on the pristine shores of Riviera Maya and offers something for everyone, from sparkling pools to a wide range of Royalton Fit™ classes.

Edmontonians can head to Riu Emerald Bay in Mazatlán for just $1,355 per person (including taxes, based on double occupancy) for a 7-night stay in a Hotel Room departing on January 2, 2021. This recently-renovated resort overlooks Brujas Beach and is home to a brand-new section and water park.

Another popular choice in Pacific Mexico is Riu Jalisco in Riviera Nayarit. Packages to this Sunwing favourite resort start as low $1,195 per person (including taxes, based on double occupancy) for a 7-night stay in a Hotel Room departing on January 9, 2021, from Edmonton. The beachfront property offers something for everyone, in addition to exclusive RIU-topia inclusions for Sunwing guests.

Canadians can enjoy a frictionless vacation experience with Sunwing’s flexible booking options including the option to change or cancel their plans anytime with ease, monthly payment options and complimentary Price Drop Cash Back of up to $800 per couple. Plus, select packages booked during the sale for departures between now and December 31, 2021 include COVID-19 coverage at no additional cost.

Sunwing returns to responsible travel, first flights since March take off

Sunwing Travel Group’s acting Chief Medical Advisor on board first Sunwing Airlines flight to Cancun and documenting Safe with Sunwing commitment throughout journey

Dr Nord
Sunwing’s acting Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Nord, on board a Sunwing Airlines flight to Cancun

TORONTO, Nov. 09, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunwing Airlines has returned to the skies, with the first flight since March taking off from Toronto Pearson International Airport and landing in Punta Cana International Airport on Friday, November 6. The flight marked Sunwing’s return to responsible travel, after grounding its aircraft for over 230 days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thrilled to be bringing Canadians back to paradise on board Sunwing Airlines,” said Mark Williams, President of Sunwing Airlines. “After months of staying home and with colder weather just around the corner, many Canadians are eager to return to the tropics. We are excited to be back in the skies, helping sun-seekers travel safely and responsibly.”

Although the operator has been sending Canadians to the tropics since August with the help of third-party carriers, Friday’s flight marked the official return to service for Sunwing Airlines. Travellers can look forward to departures from Toronto to Punta Cana on Fridays and Sundays, to Montego Bay on Fridays and Saturdays, and to Cancun on Saturdays and Sundays. All customers will enjoy a seamless travel experience with flights either on board Sunwing Airlines or a third-party carrier.

In September, Sunwing partnered with global healthcare leader Medcan to advise on the Safe with Sunwing program, and to provide ongoing support for customer and employee health and safety. Dr. Peter Nord, Chief Medical Officer at Medcan, was appointed as Sunwing Travel Group’s acting Chief Medical Advisor and was on board the inaugural Sunwing flight from Toronto to Cancun on Saturday, November 7.

“I had the pleasure of travelling with Sunwing from Toronto to Cancun this weekend,” commented Dr. Peter Nord. “The journey was seamless from check-in and boarding to the flight and resort arrival. The high Canadian standards that Sunwing has implemented are evident through every step of the vacation journey. I can confidently say that, with the Safe with Sunwing commitment in place, Canadians can travel with peace of mind.”

Sunwing Crew
Sunwing flight crew on board Sunwing Airline’s first returning flight to Punta Cana since March.

Dr. Nord recently took the time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions that Canadians have about travelling safely with Sunwing. You can view the first of his of his three-part “Ask Me Anything” video series on Sunwing’s YouTube channel and website.

Dr. Nord will also be broadcasting live from Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa throughout the week on Sunwing’s social media channels, including Instagram and Facebook, sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the resort amenities and safety protocols that Canadian travellers can look forward to when they vacation at Sunwing’s Royalton Luxury Resorts.

Sunwing has spent months developing the Safe with Sunwing commitment to help customers travel with peace of mind. As the only travel provider that owns the airline that customers fly on, the transfer buses that travel to and from hotels, and over 30 Sunwing-owned-and-operated hotels throughout the tropics, Sunwing can ensure that the highest Canadian health and safety standards are in place throughout the entire vacation experience so customers can enjoy a hassle-free getaway.

Most recently, Sunwing became the first Canadian airline to treat all aircraft with AEGIS Microbe Shield®, a powerful antimicrobial spray that controls and prevents the growth of bacteria on surfaces, as part of the Safe with Sunwing commitment.

To learn more about the Safe with Sunwing commitment, visit the Sunwing website.

Airlines lure Canadians to buy tickets for flights that will never take off

Link to Source: CBC News

Air Canada cancelled 27,000 flights in November, while WestJet slashed schedule by about 12,400 flights

Christopher Reynolds · The Canadian Press · Posted: Nov 06, 2020

Air Canada cancelled 27,000 flights scheduled to take off this month. Westjet meanwhile has cancelled more than 12,000. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Rob Przybylski and Courtney Ross were slated to wrap up the month on a Costa Rican beach, sipping sugarcane cocktails with friends and family as they celebrated their wedding.

Instead, the Oshawa, Ont., duo say they and their 84 guests are out more than $216,000 after their Sunwing Airlines vacation package was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They have basically told us that refunds are not an option,” said Przybylski, 35.

Like most Canadian airlines, Sunwing does not reimburse passengers for flights cancelled by the airline, instead offering travel vouchers valid for two years.

The couple’s original booking in April had been called off by the carrier as the virus shut down global air travel. Their destination, a Planet Hollywood resort on the Pacific Ocean, offered a refund, but Sunwing did not, Przybylski said. So they rebooked the trip for Nov. 27.

Sunwing cancelled the second flight last month, he said.

“We have 80 people that are out money, and a lot of them aren’t working now,” including his fiancée for much of this year, Przybylski said.

“My mom is the perfect example. She hasn’t travelled in 30 years. What is she going to do with a credit?”

‘Bait and switch’

Despite minuscule travel demand, Canadian airlines continue to schedule tens of thousands of flights per month, only to cancel the vast majority of them several weeks before takeoff.

The approach can leave passengers with a drastically changed itinerary or no flight at all, giving them little choice but to accept vouchers they may never use.

Rob Przybylski and Courtney Ross and their wedding guests can’t get refunded the $216,000 they spent on their destination wedding. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Air Canada cut more than 27,000 flights, or 70 per cent, from its November schedule between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, according to figures from aviation data firm Cirium. It cut another 2,000 by the end of October.

WestJet, which recently began to offer refunds for cancelled flights, in contrast to its competitors, slashed its November schedule by about 12,400 flights, or 68 per cent, in one week last month. Air Transat scrapped 63 per cent of its flights for November in the same week, leaving it with 123 — down to 100 as of last week.

Comparable schedule cuts occurred in October and September.

“It’s called bait and switch,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and head of its Global Aviation Leadership program.

The strategy is a response to a shift in customer behaviour, an attempt to woo wary travellers with ample flight options before drastically undersold seats prompt a scheduling cull.

“The industry cross their fingers and hope people buy, that they all of a sudden get this insane urge to fly,” Gradek said, calling the practice “deceptive.”

“‘Cynical’ is probably too light of a word,” he said. “It borders on the edge of misleading advertising, that you’re promoting and offering for sale stuff that you know there’s a high probability will not be what you’re actually offering to the customer.”

Carriers deny there is anything untoward about recent schedule gutting.

“Airline schedules have always been subject to change,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email, noting the company has had to cut capacity by more than 90 per cent since March.

“Overall, our schedule continues to operate as planned, and for any customers affected by changes we do provide advance notice and offer options.”

“We do our best to avoid cancelling flights at the last minute,” said Transat spokesperson Christophe Hennebelle.

Sunwing and WestJet did not respond immediately to questions.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau says the situation is ‘complicated.’ (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the situation “complicated,” saying he sympathizes with customers.

“I encourage the airlines to repay passengers if they can. At the same time, some of those airlines are in deep difficulty in terms of their own ability to continue to function if they were having to provide refunds to all of the customers.”

Air Canada held on to more than $2.4 billion in advance ticket sales as of July 31, a hefty sum to return after its revenues dropped 95 per cent year over year in its second quarter.

Travellers have a right to reimbursement for a service that was paid for but never rendered, regardless of airlines’ financial woes, say opposition MPs and consumer advocates.

The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois have demanded refund requirements as a condition of any aid package to the industry.

Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Friday the government is “behaving like a branch of Air Canada.”

“The minister of transport for seven months, since the beginning of the crisis, has essentially shrugged his shoulders any time the need for passenger reimbursement has come up,” NDP transport critic Niki Ashton said in an interview.

The Canadian Transportation Agency said in March that airlines can issue travel credit instead of refunds for cancelled trips in the “current context,” though the agency later clarified that the online statement was “not a binding decision” and that reimbursements depend in part on the contract between airline and passenger.

European and U.S. authorities have demanded airlines reimburse travellers, on top of the strings attached to aid that range from limiting dividends and executive bonuses to cutting carbon emissions and carving out ownership stakes for government.

Back in Oshawa, far from the sands of a Costa Rican resort, Rob Przybylski took stock.

“I know I’m not the only one in this situation. The biggest thing for me is to get my money back for my guests.”