Confusion created for travelers sun wing A vacation due to widespread flight cancellations over the past week has sparked a lot of outrage, but the union representing airline pilots says the staffing issue is not to blame.
Sunwing on Thursday pointed to a proposed plan to add dozens of temporary foreign pilots to its workforce ahead of the busy holiday season as one of the reasons it was forced to do so. Sudden interruption of all business Through early February at two international airports in Saskatchewan. The move was opposed by unions and was eventually scrapped in early December.
However, Bruce Snow, National Director of Unifor, said that more pilots could not prevent the impact of severe winter weather on Sunwing’s operations. Airlines are also solely responsible for the extended delays travelers are facing to get home, he added.
“From a pilot’s perspective, from the pilots we represent, pilots can fly,” Snow said Friday.
“This is strictly an operational issue that companies must address to ensure they schedule flights and schedule pilots who fly planes.”
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Sunwing said in a statement Friday that it planned to use temporary foreign pilots during the winter to supplement seasonal travel demand from Saskatoon and Regina.
“When the deployment of foreign pilots was not agreed, we brought in a sub-service to keep operations running, but the conditions and schedules proved too critical,” the airline said. Told.
“Although we have attempted to reposition Sunwing aircraft for support, we have been unable to do so as a result of recent weather disruptions causing flight delays and cancellations, as well as high demand during peak holiday periods. did.”
Airlines are still rushing to get hundreds of passengers home from destinations such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico after winter storms disrupted operations during the holidays.
the company said on Friday There are 43 flights planned for this week, 34 of which are already in service or due to be completed by the end of the day.
In early November, Unifor objected to Sunwing’s use of the federal temporary foreign worker program, citing safety concerns, and said the approximately 65 foreign pilots the company wanted to hire would not meet training requirements. said they must have come from a less strict country. Sunwing he withdrew a month later.
John Gladek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University in Montreal, said the decision to abandon the staffing plan may have had an impact.
However, he agreed that the inability of Sunwing and other airlines to adequately deal with winter weather cannot be ignored.
“This is Canada,” he told Global News in an interview on Friday.
“Levels of confusion… This is one of the books.
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Gladek said the disruption was particularly bad this month after the federal government and airlines promised improvements in November after travelers faced long lines, cancellations and poor communication over the summer. added.
“And lo and behold, all these wishes by the aviation industry have not come true,” he said.
What is needed is increased competition and greater federal oversight, including accountability for airlines that prioritize profit, maximizing capacity over operations and customer service.
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He said it was time for Ottawa to consider how the airline could actually deliver on the promised schedule and sell to the public.
“The system is broken,” he said.
Conservative Party leader Pierre Polivre echoed these comments at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government for the “dismal service” Canadians are experiencing. criticized that.
“This is a federal matter,” Polivre said.
“The solution, of course, is to have the Canadian Transport Agency hold airlines accountable for breaking promises to people. It is the government agency that is the prime minister’s responsibility to make it work.”
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Because the agency is an independent quasi-judicial court and operates independently of the government, the steps Ottawa can take to address operational issues are limited.
In response to Poilievre’s criticism on Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s office said it understands travelers’ frustration over flight delays and cancellations this holiday season, calling what they experienced “unacceptable”. repeated.
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In a separate statement on Thursday, spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy did not say whether the situation would affect Algabra’s decision on whether to approve WestJet’s proposed takeover of Sunwing.
“The public interest assessment has been completed and the Al Ghabra minister is carefully considering the transaction,” Kennedy said.
The Competition Bureau expressed concern in October about the merger, which is likely to result in higher prices and lower service while creating a de facto monopoly on at least 16 routes between Canada and Mexico or the Caribbean. said. Both companies dispute the agency’s claims, saying the route in question is only a small part of their business.
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Gradek said there was “no doubt” that the merger would be approved, and that merging Sunwing’s systems with WestJet’s operations, which are “much more winter-ready than Sunwing,” would allow for a repeat of the holiday season. He said it could even be prevented.
Air Canada, WestJet and other airlines have also seen delays and cancellations, while Sunwing has been working to repatriate Canadians stranded in Mexico, Cuba and other vacation hotspots. The scarcity of planes available and their relatively small size posed a bigger problem.
Hundreds of Canadians remained stranded, but passengers who managed to make it home said the Sunwing flight appeared “half-empty.”
Many people say they will think twice before trusting Sunwing again with their vacation plans.
“I’m really going to think about Plan B and Plan C. That’s certainly when we leave the country,” said Rod Perkins. Stuck overnight in Cuba.
The situation became even more precarious when their flight was canceled after handing over their visitor visas, at the mercy of Sunwing, who took them to a new hotel and returned to the airport to experience further delays. did.
“[In the future]we want to make sure the worst-case scenario is covered,” Perkins said.
— Using files from Global’s Kyle Benning, Neetu Garcha, Teresa Wright, and Canadian Press