Booking or changing a flight? Here are the rules for major Canadian airlines

News from Global News – link to story and video

YERICA ALINI GLOBAL NEWS | May 27, 2020

 WATCH: Air Canada has changed its policy for customers who lost their flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but anyone hoping for a cash refund will be disappointed.

The federal government’s advisory against all non-essential international travel remains in effect. Many other countries, even those where COVID-19 case counts have been steadily declining for weeks, also have strict travel restrictions in place.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at airline websites.

As the industry struggles with an unprecedented collapse in air travel and tourism, airlines are touting “flexible” booking policies as a way to woo back customers.Watch: Frustration mounts over lack of refunds for flights cancelled 

If you’re contemplating rebooking an existing flight that was cancelled amid the pandemic or making a new reservation for a future date, here’s what some of the major Canadian airlines are offering:

Air Canada

After facing public criticism for offering a 24-month travel credit rather than refunds for cancelled flights, Canada’s flagship carrier recently introduced expanded booking options. Through June 30, passengers can make a one-time change with no fee to all new or existing bookings for original travel dates between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. As of June 15, those who booked directly with Air Canada will also be able to convert their ticket to a “fully transferrable” travel voucher that has no expiry date or turn it into Aeroplan Miles with 65 per cent bonus miles.

Air Canada says it’s working on ensuring two new options are also available to those who booked through a travel agency, including Expedia.

Customers with refundable tickets can also choose to get their money back. However, if you purchased a non-refundable ticket and decide to cancel your flight, you won’t be eligible for a refund, the website warns.

The changes come as the airline announced it’s still planning to fly to some 100 destinations this summer, including in the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, Asia and South America.Watch: Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says government looking at vouchers for airline passengers 

WestJet

WestJet has suspended its international routes through June 25. Like Air Canada, WestJet has been offering travel credit valid for two years for cancelled flights and vacation packages.

For new flight bookings made between March 3 and June 30, you can change or cancel your trip with no fee one time if you act more than 24 hours ahead of departure.

For U.S. flights, if you cancel within 24 hours of making a booking, you get a full refund, according to the company website.

Air Transat

Air Transat flights are temporarily suspended until June 30. The airline says on its website it has been automatically granting travel credit valid for 24 months to customers whose flights were cancelled.

For flights and vacations in southern destinations booked between April 30 and May 31, customers get to reschedule the same trip for any time within a year of the original return date or book a new trip — with different dates, destination and hotel — at no charge up to 24 hours before departure.

Those who just want to cancel get a 12-month travel credit for southern vacation packages and flights in the lowest fare class. For those who bought tickets in other fare classes, the standard cancellation terms apply, according to the airline’s website.

Sunwing

Sunwing has suspended all southbound flights until June 25. Those with flights or vacation packages starting between March 17 and June 25 are eligible for travel credit valid for departures up to June 20, 2022. Notably, the company says its travel credits are non-transferable and non-refundable.

For bookings after June 25 of this year, the company says it will be applying its standard change and cancellation policies.Watch: Coronavirus outbreak: Garneau says airlines facing ‘very tough times’ as customers hope for refunds 

Swoop

WestJet’s ultra-low-cost carrier has suspended all international flights until Aug. 31.

All new bookings made at least seven days ahead of departure will come with the ability to change the date or time of the flight up to 24 hours in advance. If you have an existing booking, you can add the flexible-booking feature to your reservation for travel that is at least seven days out.

Customers get a one-time change per direction.

Flair Airlines

Another no-frills Canadian airline, Flair, also says it has relaxed its booking policies. For those with existing reservations for flights in March, April and May, passengers can choose between a one-time chance to rebook their trip without having to pay a change fee and a travel voucher valid until May 31, 2021. You can only use one voucher per reservation, and it won’t cover costs like baggage, seat selection and other optional fees.

For new bookings made in March, April and May, you get the fee waived on a one-time rebooking for travel until May 31, 2021.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Travel changes and cancellations must be made at least 24 hours in advance of departure.Watch: Airline credits versus full refunds 

Air passenger rights advocate warns against flexible bookings

Flexible bookings, travel credit and vouchers are hardly unique to Canadian airlines. Customers perusing U.S. or other international carriers will be hard-pressed to find any mention of the possibility of refunds, especially for non-refundable flights.

But air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs argues that any alternative to getting your money back comes with considerable financial risk.

For one, consumers should watch out for fare increases. Often, he notes, airlines are merely waiving rebooking fees, with passengers left to cover any cost differential between their original and new bookings out of pocket.

“You will not get a flight to New York City in September for the price you paid in February,” he said via email.

Lukacs takes issue with the practice, noting that current rules under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations stipulate carriers must rebook passengers at no charge if their flight is cancelled.

Watch: Coronavirus: The future of travel

Another important caveat: most airlines allow only a one-time change to your reservations. (There are exceptions: Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, for example, is currently allowing unlimited rebookings for some customers within certain dates.)

Also, it’s not clear what happens to travel vouchers if an airline files for insolvency.

“Vouchers holders are unsecured creditors,” Lukacs warns.

Finally, airlines are leaving it up to consumers to figure out whether they can travel. Just because you were able to book a flight to, say, Rome doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to take the trip.

Traditionally, it’s passengers’ responsibility to make sure they have any permits or visas required to travel to their destination — and travel during COVID-19 is no different, Lukacs notes.

Ultimately, customers should get refunds, he says, adding that even consumers with a non-refundable ticket are entitled to their money back if their flight was cancelled.

European Union and U.S. authorities have said travellers have a right to refunds amid the pandemic. In Germany, the government recently announced a €9-billion (C$13.6-billion) rescue deal for national carrier Lufthansa after the European Commission reasserted in mid-May EU airlines’ obligation to provide refunds to eligible travellers who ask for them.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Consumer rights advocates say Canadians are also entitled by law to a full refund for flights cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Ottawa recognizes both “how vulnerable the airline sector is” and that Canadians are concerned about being “out-of-pocket” for airplane tickets they won’t use.

“I think we need to have some very careful discussions with airlines, with the air travel sector and, indeed, with Canadians … to try and figure out a way forward where we can ensure that Canadians are treated fairly and our airline industry remains there for when our economy picks up again,” the prime minister recently said.

“We will work with airlines and with Canadians who are concerned with finding solutions.”

— With files from Global News’ Beatrice Britneff

Stephenville airport loses summer flights from Porter, Sunwing

News from CBC News – link to story

Airport to lose about 60 seasonal flights a year

CBC News · May 27, 2020

Porter and Sunwing have both cancelled summer flights to Stephenville. (CBC/Canadian Press)

Stephenville’s struggling airport has been dealt another blow, as two more airlines have cancelled their summer flights to the western Newfoundland destination.

Sunwing Airlines announced last week that when its summer flights between Toronto and Newfoundland begin June 26, they won’t be flying to Stephenville.

On Tuesday, Porter Airlines announced its planes would stay on the ground until July 29 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and cancelled its summer flights to Stephenville entirely.

Mayor Tom Rose said he was expecting that Porter might not fly to Stephenville this summer, but he was surprised Sunwing chose to fly to Deer Lake.

“I think Sunwing probably looked at their travel capacity and the numbers that were going to Deer Lake and Stephenville and probably made a business decision,” he said.

“[That’s] unfortunate, because they’ve been here for about a decade now.”

The announcements from Porter and Sunwing come just months after PAL Airlines flew its last flight from Stephenville in January, leaving the airport without a year-round commercial air service.

With Porter and Sunwing gone, Rose said, the airport will lose about 60 seasonal flights a year.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose says he expects positive announcements for the airport in the next month or two. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

He said the town has been working with the Stephenville Airport Corporation to try to attract travellers in the region back to Stephenville and to encourage more airlines to offer flights from the airport.

The mayor said he also expects positive announcements in the next month or two that will make Stephenville “a more robust, busier airport for domestic travel.”

“Our airport’s been hurting for years, we’ve been putting a fair bit of municipal funds into the airport to keep it going, but it hasn’t been sustainable,” he said.

“[But] I’m pretty excited for 2021.”

‘Big opportunities’ for Stephenville

Rose said as travel restrictions due to the pandemic begin to lift, Stephenville could take advantage of increases in travel within Canada. 

“People, I believe, are going to be a little hesitant to fly international, but they’ll feel a little bit more assurance and easiness about flying domestically.… There’s big opportunities for us,” he said.

In the meantime, Rose said, other sources of revenue, like air ambulance and military operations, can help keep the airport going, and the town will be providing more funding to the airport as part of a restructuring plan, in addition to a $100,000 grant given to the airport in March.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Stephenville Airport Corporation said it was disappointed by Porter’s decision to cancel its flights to the airport, but understands the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a very short season and considering the provincial travel restrictions in place for Newfoundland and Labrador at this time, it would be very challenging for leisure air service to resume and be profitable,” the statement reads.

“We continually work with air carriers to encourage them to consider Stephenville Airport as a leisure market, as we have established that there is a high propensity for visiting friends and relatives in the core summer season and holidays.”

WATERLOO REGION Up in the air: the fate of the airline industry and Waterloo Region’s airport is uncertain post-pandemic

News from The Record – link to story

By James Jackson, Record Reporter | Sat., May 16, 2020

(c) Copyright – The Record

BRESLAU — Take a drive south along Fountain Street North near the town of Breslau and you’ll eventually pass the Region of Waterloo International Airport. There you’ll see signs of how the global pandemic has hit the airline industry.

About 250 private planes are securely tied to their moors, and the nearly 30 planes that make up the local flight school remain grounded. To top it off, more than half a dozen blue, white and orange Sunwing Boeing 737-800 jets are parked on the runway and tell the real story of an imperiled industry.

As of early April, the International Air Transport Association — which represents about 290 airlines and 82 per cent of global air traffic — said the number of flights globally was down 80 per cent compared to 2019, largely due to strict travel restrictions imposed by countries trying to slow the spread of the virus.

Some in the industry have called it the worst crisis in the history of aviation. Worse than the financial crisis of 2008. Worse than the SARS outbreak in 2003. Worse than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Aside from two WestJet flights per week to Calgary on Thursdays and Sundays and the occasional private flight, the once-bustling regional airport feels like a ghost town.

Region of Waterloo International Airport general manager Chris Wood said before the pandemic hit the airport could see 1,000 plane movements (takeoffs or landings) on a nice day, but lately they’ve been lucky if they hit 100.

“It’s been devastating for the industry worldwide,” said Wood. “We haven’t seen anything like this, and it happened so quickly.”

Up in the air

No one really knows how this pandemic will play out or how the industry will weather the uncertainty.

“If you have a crystal ball, can I borrow it?” joked Wood.

Air Canada recently reported a $1-billion loss in the first quarter of 2020 compared to a $345-million profit in the same period last year, and chief executive Calin Rovinescu called it the “darkest period ever” in the history of aviation.

The company is burning through $22 million every day paying rent, interest and other expenses. The company had about $6.5-billion in cash at the end of March, enough Rovinescu said for the company to emerge on the other side of the crisis.

Long-term forecasting is fraught with uncertainty and there are a lot of variables to consider. Perhaps none are bigger than trying to predict the human response to this pandemic.

Tens of millions of people around the world have spent weeks and months in strict lockdowns that have shuttered most non-essential businesses. But the highly infectious virus is still lurking, and there is no vaccine.

Just how many people are ready and eager to jump on a plane under those conditions is anyone’s guess.

“Many people won’t want to travel until they feel confident they can travel safely in a confined space,” said William Morrison, an associate professor in business and economics at Wilfrid Laurier University and co-editor of the Journal of Air Transport Management. He is also a research fellow at the Centre for Transportation Studies at the University of British Columbia.

Morrison predicts demand for air travel will remain muted until either a vaccine is available, or testing and monitoring is more widespread. This is especially true for the leisure or vacation market where spending is more discretionary and price sensitive.

“Ultimately it’s a matter of confidence — the public has to feel confident that they’re not at risk,” he said.

Business travel may rebound more quickly, but even the fate of in-person business meetings could be up in the air after employees have spent the past few months proving to themselves and others that much of what they do can be done with a computer screen and a reliable internet connection.

“It’s likely that many aspects of business travel may not rebound,” Morrison said.

Shaky economics

Another major factor in how quickly people get back in the air is price.

Could airlines be required to leave a certain proportion of every flight empty to help promote social distancing aboard their jets? Some carriers have already begun leaving middle seats empty, but the European Union has recently stated it will not be a requirement.

Airlines use what is called the “Break Even Load Factor” to determine how many seats on every flight an airline needs to sell in order to break even or make a profit. A number of factors, including ticket price and fuel costs, can affect that percentage.

Morrison said one major Canadian carrier breaks even when about 75 per cent of the 737-800 jets it flies are full, and prior to the pandemic it usually sold about 85 per cent of seats.

But if they were to lose a third or half of their seats to help keep passengers apart in the air, ticket prices or baggage fees would likely have to go up.

Maybe this is an opportunity for the industry to reflect on its huge growth in recent decades, Morrison conceded, and address some of the growing concerns around international air travel — namely, its impact on the environment.

He pulled up a graph showing the steady rise in worldwide passengers between 1970 (less than half a billion) to 2019 (just over four billion). He highlighted economic shocks that have impacted the industry in the past — the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, the Gulf War a decade later, the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis.

Each was a shock to the system at the time, but when viewed over five decades those jolts appear more as small patches of turbulence followed by years of relatively smooth (and increasingly rapid) growth.

Is the pandemic just another blip on an otherwise smooth trajectory? Or will it become something more?

Suzanne Kearns, an associate professor of geography and aviation at the University of Waterloo, is optimistic the industry will eventually recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as it has from other shocks, but what that recovery will look like is less clear.

One possibility is a V-shaped recovery where travellers who have spent months in social isolation and are desperate to travel again flock back into airports and generate a quick recovery.

GET THE LATEST IN YOUR INBOX

The other is a U-shaped recovery where travellers — whose spending may be hampered by higher prices and a possible global recession, and who also remain worried about the virus re-emerging — are slower to return to the skies.

The airline industry is a vital economic driver, she added, and each of the 2.7 million jobs in the industry around the world supports 24 more jobs in other areas of the economy.

Like Morrison, however, Kearns said a lot relies on how safe travellers feel inside airport terminals and aboard planes.

“How do you make these spaces safe? I don’t know if masks or gloves alone are enough,” she said.

The role of Waterloo Region’s airport

All of this uncertainty raises questions about how Waterloo Region’s airport will be impacted.

Three years ago, the regional government released a master plan that laid out possible expansion plans for the facility.

It projected Pearson International Airport would reach its maximum capacity of 70 million annual passengers by the mid-2030s and smaller, regional airports like Waterloo’s would be key in absorbing the overflow.

The $375-million expansion and modernization plan was written to guide the next two decades of growth at the local airport, including runway expansions. The first phase of the expansion wouldn’t be triggered until the airport saw 250,000 passengers per year, or about four 737 passenger jets every day.

In 2018, only about 80,000 passengers went through the airport.

Regional councillor Sean Strickland said with the global uncertainty around the future of air travel it might be wise to review that plan.

“I think the numbers still make sense, but the time frame I think needs to be extended,” said Strickland.

He noted how even prior to the pandemic the local airport was struggling to attract business and relied on about $6 million from the region each year. Over the past decade, the region has also lost service from carriers such as American Airlines, Bearskin Airlines and Arctic charter Nolinor.

Strickland said the region should consider selling or leasing the property to the private sector, a position he held even before the pandemic hit.

That all hinges on the results of an ongoing service review at the region, he added.

Tony LaMantia, president and CEO of the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, said the airport is critical for the success of the region. In 2015, the economic impact of the airport on the regional economy was an estimated $90 million.

“If you believe in growth for the region, you have to believe in YKF,” he said, referring to the airport’s location indicator code. “Waterloo Region will not be as vibrant or successful without the airport infrastructure.”

Yet even LaMantia noted it might be time to re-examine the master plan to ensure it makes sense post-pandemic.

“You’ll have to dust off the master plan and look at the impact,” he said.

Woods said Toronto’s Pearson airport saw 50 million passengers last year but that could plummet by as much as 30 million this year.

“I don’t think we’ll get back to ‘normal’ until the vast majority of us are immune,” he said. “How long that takes, well your guess is as good as mine.”

Canadian airline passengers are entitled to vouchers for cancelled flights from COVID-19 — but what about refunds?

News from Vancouver Sun – link to story

Author of the article: Emily Jackson  •  14 May 2020

Air Canada is offering refunds to customers who bought refundable tickets and offering 24-month vouchers to the rest. COLE BURSTON/BLOOMBERG FILES

As Canada’s largest airlines cut capacity and cancel dozens of routes even as summer travel season approaches, airlines and travellers on both sides of the Atlantic are continuing the debate over whether passengers with travel plans foiled by COVID-19 are entitled to full refunds or vouchers for future travel.

On Wednesday, the European Commission confirmed passengers have the right to full refunds within seven days despite pressure from 16 member states to temporarily relax the regulations to allow for vouchers so cash-strapped airlines don’t collapse.

Instead of amending the rules, the European Commission issued a non-binding suggestion that airlines offer more attractive vouchers, refundable after one year and transferable to another traveller.

The decision outraged European airline associations, who have decried the commission’s decision given airlines have no cash coming in yet and are facing up to €9.2 billion in cash reimbursements through the end of May, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The IATA noted the refund rules were not designed to deal with mass cancellations caused by a global pandemic — and emphasized that Canada allows the voucher approach.

“While passengers have a clear right to reimbursement of their tickets, we believe refundable vouchers, or a delayed reimbursement, represents a fair and reasonable compromise given the unprecedented liquidity situation airlines are currently facing,” Airlines for Europe managing director Thomas Reynaert said in a statement.

A woman walks through a mostly empty Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on May 12, 2020.
A woman walks through a mostly empty Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on May 12, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The United States also requires airlines to provide refunds when the carrier cancels or significantly changes a passenger’s flight, but customer complaints about refunds have soared since the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it received 25,000 complaints in March and April, up from a typical 1,500 complaints per month. The department issued its second enforcement notice on the matter since travel restrictions began, reminding airlines that they may offer vouchers as long as they also give customers the option of a refund.

“The department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a statement.

The issue is particularly charged in the U.S. given the federal government’s US$50-billion bailout for major airlines.

Meanwhile in Canada, full refunds are but a wish for customers who booked standard tickets since cancelled. Instead, most Canadian airlines are offering 24-month travel vouchers.

Canada’s air passenger protection regulations require airlines to ensure customers can complete their trips when flights are cancelled for reasons outside the airlines’ control, but they do not mandate refunds in such circumstances.

In late April, the Canadian Transportation Agency said the vouchers could be a “reasonable approach in the extraordinary circumstances.”

“Vouchers for future travel can help protect passengers from losing the full value of their flights, and improve the odds that over the longer term, consumer choice and diverse service offerings ­— including from small and medium-sized airlines — will remain in Canada’s air transportation sector,” it stated.

Passengers can file complaints with the CTA if they believe they are entitled to a refund, although the agency has paused all dispute resolution activities until June 30. It did not respond to questions on Wednesday on how many complaints have been filed.

Parked WestJet Boeing 737 aircraft fill an unused runway at the Calgary International airport on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
Parked WestJet Boeing 737 aircraft fill an unused runway at the Calgary International airport on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. GAIN YOUNG/POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES

The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada, WestJet, Jazz and Transat, supports the CTA’s guidance that vouchers are acceptable given the financial and operational crisis the pandemic caused.

“The industry is reeling from the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 90 per cent of capacity pulled from the market, billions of dollars worth of aircraft parked, and virtually no revenue coming in,” NACC president Mike McNaney said in an email.

But some passengers hope to band together to get their money back in court. In April, a plaintiff filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Swoop and Sunwing. It argues customers are entitled to refunds under contract law for frustrated contracts. The defendants have yet to file a statement of defence and the action has not yet been certified.

For its part, WestJet, which on Sunday announced it would suspend three dozen routes between June and July, said it “values the feedback we are receiving from our guests and appreciates how difficult this unprecedented situation is for all.”

The airline is monitoring the legal frameworks in every jurisdiction it operates, a spokesperson said in an email, adding it has waived rebooking fees and extended vouchers to 24 months.

Air Canada is offering refunds to customers who bought refundable tickets and offering 24-month vouchers to the rest.

Financial Post

Sunwing celebrates frontline heroes by giving away 100 vacations

From Sunwing Vacations Inc

TORONTO, May 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunwing is giving back to frontline workers across the country by giving away 100 all inclusive vacations to Royalton Luxury Resorts.

Sunwing’s Hero Vacations initiative calls on Canadians to nominate deserving frontline heroes who have helped their family or community fight the pandemic. Eligible nominees can be health care workers, emergency service providers or anyone who has helped keep Canada safe during this difficult time.

“As a Canadian family-owned business, we are tremendously grateful for everything our frontline workers are doing to keep Canadian families safe. We want to do our part to thank these frontline heroes who step up each and every day, putting their lives at risk, to save lives and ensure we have our essentials,” said Stephen Hunter, President and CEO of Sunwing. “With Sunwing’s Hero Vacations, we hope to highlight amazing stories of everyday Canadians courage and care and thank those workers by making their vacation dreams come true, giving them a week of much-deserved rest, relaxation and luxury.”

There are two ways to enter:

  1. Nominate a deserving frontline hero using this form, OR;
  2. Share a photo of a deserving frontline hero on Instagram using the #SunwingCelebratesHeroes hashtag and tagging @sunwingvacations in the caption with a brief description of why they deserve a vacation (must be posted from a public profile or the post will not be entered).

Nominations are open on May 14th and close on June 30th. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Prior to today’s announcement, Sunwing has contributed to Canada’s pandemic response efforts by bringing home over 60,000 Canadians, including 3,300 non-Sunwing customers, free of charge from various destinations, and donating over 46,000 meals to food programs across Canada as part of a national partnership with Second Harvest.

Sunwing Applauds Trudeau Government’s Aid For Large Employers

News from Travel Pulse Canada – link to story

JIM BYERS ~ Travel Pulse Canada ~ MAY 11, 2020

Sunwing
Sunwing officials say they’re pleased at the Trudeau government’s announcement of help for large sectors that have previously not been singled out for special COVID-19 relief, including airlines and tourism.

At least one major Canadian airline is applauding the Trudeau government’s offer of help for major areas of the economy, including the airline and tourism sectors.

In a statement sent to TravelPulse Canada, Sunwing spokeswoman Jacqueline Grossman said the airline was pleased to hear today’s news.

“Throughout the pandemic and following associated bans on non-essential travel, Sunwing has vocally advocated for support for the air transportation industry and its employees,” she said. “Our discussions have been productive and we appreciate the understanding and attention that senior Government of Canada officials have paid to the specific challenges that airlines face, and their potentially adverse impacts on the Canadian economy.

“Today’s announcement shows that the government has been listening and we are pleased to see this major commitment to large employers. At this point, we are still reviewing the program for details on its potential application to Sunwing, but applaud the commitment to protect Canadian jobs and help businesses weather the current economic downturn.”

Other airlines said it’s still too early to comment, but that they’re reviewing the offer.

“WestJet acknowledges the creation of the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) and we will review the program specifics to determine our next steps,” a spokesperson said in an email. “In the meantime, we continue to do everything we can to mitigate the impacts on our operations and the critical investments we make that are essential to Canadian communities.”

Porter Airlines’ spokesman Brad Cicero offered up a similar comment to TravelPulse Canada, saying that officials are “reviewing this morning’s announcement to fully understand the details and determine its applicability for Porter before making any decisions about applying to access these funds.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa is offering bridge financing for big Canadian businesses across all sectors but that there are conditions attached, including a requirement that companies receiving the loans disclose their environmental plans.

The CBC reports that the large employer emergency financing facility (LEEFF) will provide support to employers with annual revenues of more than $300 million whose credit needs aren’t being met through conventional financing.

Trudeau stressed that the program is a bridge loan program, not a “bailout.”

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said the program will help all sorts of business sectors, including tourism and the “aero sector.”

Sunwing extends suspension of operations to June 25

News from Travelweek – link to story

Sunwing extends suspension of operations to June 25

Sunwing extends suspension of operations to June 25

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 ~ Posted by Travelweek Group

TORONTO — Sunwing has updated its suspension of operations, extending the suspension until at least June 25.

Sunwing has updated its policy so that passengers with departures dates for flights or vacation packages March 17 – June 25 are now eligible to receive a future travel credit for the value of the original amount paid.

The credits can be redeemed for future travel for departures up to June 20, 2022 to anywhere Sunwing Airlines flies.

For departure dates June 26, 2020 onwards standard terms and conditions apply to changes and cancellations. More information can be found here.

Battered Canadian airline industry pushing for government bailout

News from CBC News – link to story

Consumer group wants strings attached to taxpayer help, including refunds for cancelled flights

Ashley Burke · CBC News · Posted: May 02, 2020

Some Canadian airlines are in talks with the federal government and asking for a relief package for the entire industry that’s shedding tens of millions of dollars a day as planes sit idle due to the pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press )

Crippled by COVID-19, Canada’s airline industry says it’s plummeting into insurmountable debt as planes sit idle and people cancel or postpone travel plans.

Behind the scenes, major airlines are pressing the federal government for an aid package to help them survive the pandemic and quickly recover when countries finally lift their travel restrictions.

“The carriers are burning through cash,” said Mike McNaney, the president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet.

“The industry will not be able to get out of this challenge unless there’s government assistance.”

Heading into the pandemic, some of Canada’s large airlines were riding a financial high. But COVID-19 brought international travel to a halt, something the sector has never experienced before.

Some airlines stopped flying altogether. Others, such as Air Canada, scaled back operations by more than 90 per cent because of the unprecedented drop in demand.

Thousands of planes now sit parked across the country, costing air carriers tens of millions of dollars daily. And there’s no end in sight, said McNaney.

Airlines have been tapping into Canada’s wage subsidy program to hire back thousands of laid-off workers, but say they need an infusion of cash, loans and a freeze on taxes and fees to prop up the industry.

A consumer group warns that if a taxpayer bailout is on the way, it should come with strings attached banning airlines from paying executive bonuses and requiring them to reimburse consumers for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

Parked planes with big bills

Planes worth $10 billion are parked at airports across Canada, bleeding money, said McNaney. He added he’s “astounded” that 90 per cent of the market is gone.

Most airlines finance the purchase of their aircraft, which can cost more than $100 million each. The engines themselves are so expensive that they’re sometimes paid off separately, said John McKenna, president of the Air Transportation Association of Canada, which represents carriers like Porter and Sunwing Airlines.

“It’s been a catastrophe,” said McKenna. “Everyone is hurting. We are a capital intensive industry.

“Planes cost tens or sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. For them to be profitable they have to be flying all the time. Sitting there, you still have to insure them, maintain them, and you have to pay for them.

“You’re not generating any money from them. You’re just losing it.”

Porter Airlines suspended all flights during the pandemic, which is hitting the airline and tourism industries hard. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Complicated process to restart industry

Sunwing’s president Mark Williams said some companies are managing their financial losses but won’t be able to sustain it for months on end.

“There isn’t a sector that’s been more impacted by this,” said Williams on Thursday at a virtual Canadian Club Toronto event. “We’re really looking for liquidity.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that any airline in Canada can go on like this for six months without getting some sort of financial support from the government.”

A vice president at Air Canada recently said he anticipates air travel will resume worldwide by Christmas. But without federal aid, McNaney said, it will be a struggle for airlines to ramp up quickly.

“It’s going to be a very complicated process to restart aviation,” he said. “We’ve never seen 90 per cent of capacity parked at one point in time.

“That’s like trying to walk out into a parking lot after a [hockey] game with 15,000 cars in the lot and none of them turn over because it’s too cold and their engines have all shut down. So you have to get all those cars ramped up and ready to roll. Then you have to find your way out to the parking lot.”

McNaney said the government needs to stabilize the airline industry so it can start working out the logistics of re-starting with air carriers, staff and government agencies. The longer they wait, the tougher that process will be, he said.

McNaney added that the airline and tourism industries are key to rebuilding Canada’s economy.

“We recognize there are certain industries that have been extremely hard hit by both the drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 challenge, whether it’s airlines or oil and gas or tourism,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on April 1. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Government evaluating ‘all options’

A month ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he recognized the industry has been hit “extremely” hard and that help was on the way.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has waived airport authorities’ rent fees, worth an estimated $331 million. The government is giving $17 million to Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to help airlines flying essential goods to remote northern communities.

Morneau’s office said the government is still evaluating “all options to support the industry.”

“We have been in touch with airlines and we understand the impact COVID-19 is having on their industry and we are with the workers who are facing a difficult situation in these unprecedented times,” said spokesperson Maéva Proteau in a statement to CBC News.

Williams said talks continue with the government to come up with an equitable solution so that all companies — big and small — receive help.

“The government shouldn’t be picking winners or losers here,” he said. “They need to support the industry as a whole.”

Europe, U.S. promising bailouts

Some European nations and the U.S. have agreed already to bailouts. France and the Netherlands are providing a 10-billion-euro taxpayer-funded bailout to save Air France-KLM.

The Trump administration agreed to a $25 billion bailout to prop up its airline industry. Canada’s industry is roughly ten times smaller than the American one. Some Canadian pilot and airline associations have told CBC News a $5 billion bailout from the federal government would be reasonable.

But airlines have been hesitant to put a price tag on damage that’s still unfolding, and have not offered a number to the federal government.

Customers should be reimbursed, says consumer group

If Canada does announce a bailout, some argue there should be strict criteria to ensure taxpayer money isn’t misused.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said Ottawa should focus on “making sure companies couldn’t skim off excess profits through the bailout by giving dividends to their shareholders with that money, or giving large executive bonuses.

“These sorts of things should be prohibited.”

Lawford said the government also should make it mandatory for airlines to use some of the government aid package to reimburse customers for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.

There are two proposed class-against lawsuits against major Canadian airlines seeking full refunds for passengers whose flights were cancelled during the pandemic, according to the consumer group Air Passenger Rights. That same group has also taken the Canadian Transportation Agency to court over the issue. 

“It’s a large expense for the average consumer,” said Lawford. “The $3,000 to $4,000 dollars for a large vacation you’ve been saving up for multiple years is a large cost for consumers to absorb.”

Some analysts have suggested that it could take more than five years for the airline sector to return to the same traffic it saw before COVID-19 hit.

Air Canada anticipates return of worldwide air travel by Christmas

News from CBC News – link to story

Airlines changing cleaning process and working to educate public about safety measures

Ashley Burke · CBC News · Posted: Apr 30, 2020

An Air Canada VP predicts Canada’s airline industry could reopen worldwide by the end of the year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

An Air Canada vice president suggests that by the time winter holidays roll around again, Canadians will be able to board his company’s planes and fly almost anywhere in the world.

But Tim Strauss said he knows that one of the biggest tasks involved in bringing air travel back to life after pandemic restrictions lift will be convincing the public it’s safe to fly.

“I think by Christmas you will see a significant amount of flying again,” said Strauss, vice president of cargo at Air Canada. “We’ll be flying to most places around the world and certainly domestically.”

There may be fewer flights available and more connections than travellers are used to, he added.

The airline industry has been hammered by the pandemic. Some Canadian airlines have stopped flying entirely while others, including Air Canada, have scaled back more than 90 per cent due to the dramatic drop in demand. 

At a virtual Canadian Club Toronto event today, executives at several major airlines talked about what the North American airline industry could look like post-pandemic. Air Canada, Sunwing and American Airlines said corporate conversations about post-pandemic operations are focused on making sure planes are kept clean. Some airlines are changing how often they sanitize their planes and are even considering changes to how air is circulated in passenger cabins.

‘We are rolling out completely new procedures’

“That is the absolute centre focus of almost all of our product discussions at this point,” said Strauss, regarding cleanliness. “The whole industry will be working in tandem with one another to make sure it’s good no matter what airplane you’re on, anywhere in the world.”

American Airlines said that, as it learned more about COVID-19 over the past two months, it overhauled its cleaning process and now considers it a key part of ensuring a plane is safe to fly.

“We’re rolling out completely new procedures that are disinfecting all parts of the aircraft that a customer touches before every flight,” said Jim Butler, senior vice president of airport operations and cargo at American Airlines. “Before this, while that disinfection happened, it tended to happen more overnight.”

His airline is boosting its cleaning staff while looking for ways to make boarding more efficient, so that flights aren’t delayed by cleaning.

The airline also has been handing out personal protective equipment to all its customers and limiting the number of people onboard by blocking off the centre seats. Butler said the most difficult part will be educating the public about the measures being taken.

People check in at an Air Canada ticketing kiosk at Pearson International Airport. Transport Canada has made it mandatory for travellers to wear masks on planes and in airports when physical distancing isn’t possible. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

‘We’re modelling so many different scenarios right now’

“You have to make sure the customer is safe and … that they feel safe. Both of those are equally important,” he said. 

In Canada, Transport Canada has made it mandatory for all passengers to wear masks while onboard and in airports when they cannot physically distance two metres from others.

Sunwing’s president Mark Williams said the industry doesn’t know how soon the pandemic might end, or how quickly customers might come back.

“We’re modelling so many different scenarios right now because we don’t know what the future holds,” he said. 

Williams said that when the industry revives, it will have to convince  Canadians that all aspects of air travel are safe — including getting to the airport, checking in and going through security screening.

“People have to be aware of the safety,” said Williams. “I’m not sure that leaving an empty seat between two people on an airplane is really going to have a significant impact on how safe you are onboard a plane from getting a virus. 

“I think there’s other steps that we need to take. People need to understand what they are and what the risks are, to get them back to flying.”

No point in travelling unless countries are open for business

Air Canada also is looking at how air is circulated onboard its planes.

“That’s one of the things we need to adjust to make the flight safer,” said Strauss. 

The World Health Organization cites research showing there’s very little risk of communicable diseases being shared in-flight through a plane’s ventilation system. The plane’s cabins use filters which trap virus particles, according to the WHO’s website.

While Air Canada predicts better times for the industry by Christmas, Helen Becker, an airline analyst at Cowen and Company, points out that other countries will need to lift their pandemic restrictions and reopen their economies first, in order to convince people to travel.

“You can’t go to London and quarantine for 14 days,” said Becker. “If your vacation was going to be a long weekend and you go, it doesn’t work.

“We need to get all these governments on the same page to kind of open things up. Everyone wants it to be done safely because no one wants the recurrence of cases.”

Strauss said there are signs the economy is about to turn around. Manufacturers are moving parts around the world on Air Canada’s cargo flights, he said, and his company is getting ready to transport retail goods from clothing manufacturers to North America.

“These are companies that only make these moves when they think there’s an economy coming back,” she said. “That makes me very optimistic, that we are at the beginning steps of a rebound.”

Airports hammered by COVID struggle to survive; $2B in losses predicted

News from CTV News – link to story

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press Staff ~ Published Thursday, April 30, 2020

Toronto Pearson International Airport

People carry luggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto in this file photo dated Dec. 20, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO — Clobbered by anti-pandemic measures that have stifled travel and grounded much of the world’s commercial aviation, Canada’s airports are predicting around $2 billion in lost revenues this year.

The isolation of would-be travellers, border closures and flight cancellations have led to a precipitous decline in demand for plane tickets and, by extension, airport services.

“Our airports have seen traffic and revenues plummet significantly — an average of about 90 per cent,” said Daniel-Robert Gooch, head of the Canadian Airports Council, which represents 100 airports. “Looking ahead to the end of the year, airports anticipate year-end revenues to be down about 55 per cent from where they would have been, even more at smaller airports.”

The bottom line, Gooch said, were anticipated losses of between $1.8 billion and $2.2 billion.

Globally, commercial air traffic shrunk 41 per cent below 2019 levels in the last two weeks of March alone, according to Flightradar24.com. Canada, too, has been hit hard.

Emergency isolation measures, including the closure of the U.S.-Canada border and stay-home directives, brought the rush of normal air traffic to a crawl. At least six regional airports, from Saint John, N.B. to Prince Rupert B.C., have lost scheduled passenger service altogether.

At Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, plummeting passenger traffic has left normally bustling, frenetic terminals looking like gleaming ghost towns. About 5,000 passengers are moving through the facility each day, down from a normal 130,000, the airport said.

Tori Gass, with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said the number of flights has dropped from an average of 1,300 per day to about 350.

“There are approximately nine passenger airlines operating at Pearson compared to 67 airlines that were operating previously,” Gass said.

Several Canadian carriers, such as Porter Airlines and Sunwing, stopped regular flights altogether. Larger carriers, such as Air Canada and WestJet, have been limping along on drastically curtailed passenger loads, waiting along with everyone else for the pandemic skies to clear. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

“We anticipate the recovery to be protracted — faster at larger hub airports than elsewhere in the system — with passenger traffic in 2020 at only about 60 per cent of 2019 levels,” Gooch said.

Canada’s airports generate about $19 billion for the country’s economy and employ 194,000 people.

The sharp traffic reduction has forced airports, normally major economic hubs in their own right, into cutting mode. Some, like Calgary and Edmonton, have partially closed terminals. The airport in Windsor, Ont., suspended all commercial flights. Other measures include cutting employee wages or hours, or outright layoffs.

On Thursday, for example, Vancouver’s airport authority, which employs about 500 people across operations, finance, engineering, human resources and other sectors, became the latest to offer staff voluntary layoffs.

Gooch said about a dozen municipal and territorial airports appeared to be ineligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which would allow others to avoid immediate layoffs. Either way, he said, airports were struggling to cover costs, with borrowing their way through the crisis only punting the problem down the road.

While freight traffic has risen, the increase has barely offset the losses.

“Cargo aircraft movements are a fraction of normal passenger aircraft movements at most airports, and cargo doesn’t pay airport improvement fees, park at the airport, shop in the stores or eat in the restaurants,” Gooch said.

The industry, Gooch said, was hoping the federal government — already a financial life-support system for millions of Canadians and businesses — will offer loan or bond guarantees along with interest-free loans repayable over a longer period.

Airports also want Ottawa to scrap ground rents to allow them to conserve cash, focus on operations, and pay off debt acquired during the pandemic. Smaller airports need funding for essential operating expenses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 30, 2020.