Agents wait for the ripple effect from Transat’s suspension of flights out of YYZ

Agents wait for the ripple effect from Transat’s suspension of flights out of YYZ

TORONTO — Transat’s suspension of winter season flights out of Toronto takes effect today, as the company pares its winter offering down to flights from Montreal to six international destinations.

The pandemic continues to devastate airlines and the travel industry at large, and the trade is waiting to see what will happen with possibly more measures from the federal government that could further impact the industry.

“We will continue to operate flights from Montreal to a total of six international destinations: Cancun, Holguin, Port-au-Prince, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, and Paris. However, we are suspending all flights out of Toronto for the remainder of the winter season,” Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana told Travelweek.

In a notice to its travel agent partners Transat announced it was suspending all of its flights out of Toronto effective Jan. 28 through April 30. Passengers affected by the cancellations who paid for their flight or vacation package with cash or credit card will receive a full refund. Files will automatically be adjusted, says Cabana.

Passengers whose flights are affected by the revised flight schedule and who are currently abroad will automatically be rebooked on another Air Transat flight back home, and their new travel itinerary will be sent to them as soon as possible, she adds.

In summer 2020 Transat announced the cancellation of its 2020 – 2021 winter sun program out of Western Canada, setting off a wave of refunds and, for travel agents, commission recalls.

WestJet, and then WestJet Vacations, announced refunds as well, in October 2020, albeit with limited qualifying dates.

On Nov. 8 then-Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the federal government was working on a financial assistance package for Canada’s airlines, with details to come. No further details have been given. Garneau said any airline bailout would be contingent on passengers receiving refunds.

Canada’s travel agents face up to $200 million in commission recalls with mass refunds in the wake of the pandemic.

“Every dollar counts right now,” says Linda Kasza with Robert Q Travel in Aylmer, ON.  She didn’t have any current bookings with Transat but says she knows the impact any commission recall from any supplier has on agencies. ”Surely there are many agencies that are expected to return commissions. Not good when that little bit of revenue is so important in keeping the business afloat,” says Kasza.

“I CONTACTED MY GROUP RIGHT AWAY”

Like Kasza and many other agents, Michelle Whalen with Uniglobe Enterprise Travel in London, ON has been cautious about booking any travel for her clients during the pandemic. “I do not want my clients to have any more of their funds tied up for another year in FTCs,” she says.

Frustrated by the travel shaming that’s been happening over the past many weeks, Whalen says yesterday’s announcement “was not because Transat is contributing to COVID numbers by supplying travel. I am sad for Transat that this announcement will affect its employees, my colleagues, people who will lose their jobs and suffer further discouragement than what they likely already have. I’m sad that this announcement will affect Canadian jobs and the Canadian economy. Transat is a great supplier and I hope they can survive this.”

Whalen had a group booked with Transat for travel in 2020 and like so many others, the group was forced to cancel due to COVID-19. With their FTCs, the group rebooked their trip for early January 2021. “We were so hopeful that the push for rapid testing at Pearson airport would make that January trip more of a possibility,” says Whalen. “Then the return PCR testing rule (and expense) was introduced. My group therefore cancelled their trip [again]. The refund reverted back to Transat’s future travel credit.”

Whalen says: “I’m glad travellers between January 28 – April 30, 2021 will be receiving refunds back to their credit card. However, at the same time I wish there was a way my group could have their FTC’s refunded. This money has been tied up for quite a while now. Some of these clients operate self-employed businesses that are shut down during this lockdown and could use the thousands of dollars that are tied up.”

She adds: “I do understand the reasoning behind the FTC’s not being refunded. And I’m not looking forward to the challenge it may be to explain this reasoning to my clients. As soon as the announcement came out, I contacted my group right away. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone right now. Part of me wonders if airlines are receiving so much pressure from the government, it’s the government’s way to get the airlines to do its dirty work in shutting down travel completely.”

Whalen says she doesn’t rule out more suppliers following suit. “[Yesterday’s] announcement definitely has a ripple effect.”