Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — Their Boeing 737 Max aircraft may make up a fraction of their fleets but with the sudden grounding of more than 40 planes, the rebooking process for Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing is nevertheless a massive undertaking, and agents are right in the thick of it helping clients.
Here’s what we’re hearing from the airlines. Sunwing Airlines says it is finalizing a revised schedule to accommodate the temporary removal of its 737 Max aircraft from service.
“We appreciate the patience of our retail partners and customers while we work to communicate these updates,” says Sunwing.
“We will endeavor to minimize the impact of these schedule changes and we will not be cancelling any flights as a result.”
Air Canada’s 737 Max operations carry, on average, 9,000 – 12,000 customers per day. That said, Air Canada typically operates about 75 737 Max flights daily out of a total schedule of approximately 1,600 daily flights system-wide, representing less than 6% of its total flying. The airline has a total fleet of 400 aircraft (including 24 737 Max aircraft), made up of Air Canada mainline, Air Canada Rouge and Air Canada Express aircraft.
Air Canada says: “We are making adjustments to our schedule to minimize the disruption to customers as much as possible, by optimizing the deployment of the rest of our fleet and looking at alternative options, including accommodating customers on other airlines.”
The airline’s adjustments include re-scheduling wide-body aircraft to serve Hawaii.
Some Air Canada flights will operate according to schedule with mainline or Air Canada Rouge aircraft, such as Montreal-Martinique and Montreal-Guadeloupe.
Other routes, notably Halifax-London and St. John’s-London, are cancelled in the short term, with passengers re-routed through Montreal and Toronto hubs.
As Air Canada’s operations teams make changes to the airline’s flight schedule, clients whose flight times change or flight numbers change will receive an email update to their itineraries as soon as changes are finalized. Air Canada is prioritizing clients travelling within the next 72 hours.
Agents can direct Air Canada clients to the Manage My Bookings section of aircanada.com if clients want to know what type of aircraft they’re flying on.
WestJet is also working with agents and passengers on the rebooking process. WestJet has 13 737 Max aircraft. Meanwhile WestJet has 162 aircraft – or more than 92% of its overall fleet – that remain in service, say WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims.
WestJet said the grounding order will affect about 1,400 customers daily. WestJet says it will “attempt to rebook guests for no additional charge,” but is sticking to a policy that could see passengers pay the difference in fares or fees for the changed ticket.
Canada’s decision yesterday to ground the 737 Max aircraft, matched quickly by the U.S. and the FAA and following the lead of other countries around the world, has the added wrinkle of timing, coming in the midst of March Break, one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
More than 40 countries have now grounded or banned the Max 8 from their airspace over safety concerns.
Adeel Khamisa said his family’s United Airlines flight from Montreal to Los Angeles on an Air Canada-operated Max 8 plane was full last Saturday.
“All those people need to get home,” said the Ottawa resident. “I’m getting passed around back and forth between two airlines, each saying it’s the other’s responsibility.”
Jason Scarrotts, a father of two young children, said he was on the phone with Air Canada for 90 minutes before speaking with an agent to rebook their Max 8 flight from Vancouver to Palm Springs, only to be disconnected. “Please help,” he tweeted.
With files from The Canadian Press