TORONTO — The chaos at Canada’s biggest airports, particularly Pearson, has led to this: Air Canada has announced it will make “meaningful reductions” to its flight schedule for July and August in an effort to reduce passenger volumes.
The move will take more than 150 flights per day out of the schedule, which is currently operating at about 80% of pre-pandemic levels. According to the CBC, frequency reductions will account for the majority of the cuts, on domestic and transborder routes. Toronto and Montreal will see the biggest impact. In addition to the reductions, a few routes will be suspended: Montreal to Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Kelowna; and Toronto – Fort McMurray.
The back-and-forth blame game has been going on for months now as Pearson in particular struggles to get a handle on hours-long lineups for departures and long delays as well for arriving passengers.
Back in March 2022 the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) issued an apology for the slowdowns, attributed to staff shortages. The GTAA has also weighed in, and airlines as well as the NACC have said they’re doing everything possible within their control to alleviate the problems. The federal government has also issued several notices of everything it’s doing to help mitigate the delays, and has also said airlines need to shoulder their part of the responsibility.
The brinkmanship has led to Air Canada’s announcement, which will disrupt long-awaited summer travel plans for thousands, and will also see travel advisors working feverishly to help clients, just as travel was finally getting momentum after two long pandemic years.
Last month someone was said to have suggested cancelling flights to help ease congestion, an idea that seemed preposterous at the time. Now it’s a reality.
Here is the statement that Air Canada’s President and CEO, Michael Rousseau, sent out to customers:
“At Air Canada, we know how important travel plans are. This is even more the case today when many are taking their first trip in years following the pandemic. Whether for long‑anticipated vacations, visits with relatives and friends, or for business, we are grateful and recognize our responsibility when people like you entrust your travel to our airline.
“Regrettably, things are not business as usual in our industry globally, and this is affecting our operations and our ability to serve you with our normal standards of care. The COVID‑19 pandemic brought the world air transport system to a halt in early 2020. Now, after more than two years, global travel is resurgent, and people are returning to flying at a rate never seen in our industry.
“This surge in travel has created unprecedented and unforeseen strains on all aspects of the global aviation system. Around the world, there are recurring incidents of flight delays and airport congestion, resulting from a complex array of persistent factors impacting airlines and our partners in the aviation ecosystem. Similar effects are being seen in other industries too, where companies and suppliers are struggling to restart, unclog supply chains and meet pent‑up demand.
“At Air Canada, we anticipated many of these factors and began taking tangible action during the depth of the pandemic to be ready for a rapid restart. Yet, despite detailed and careful planning, the largest and fastest scale of hiring in our history, as well as investments in aircraft and equipment, it is now clear that Air Canada’s operations too have been disrupted by the industry’s complex and unavoidable challenges. The result has been flight cancellations and customer service shortfalls on our part that we would never have intended for our customers or for our employees, and for which we sincerely apologize.
“In response, we took a number of important steps, including introducing flexible ticket policies, new travel self-management tools, improvements to airport operations, as well adjustments to our schedule ‑ all to strengthen operational resiliency and to give customers more options.
“However, to bring about the level of operational stability we need, with reluctance, we are now making meaningful reductions to our schedule in July and August in order to reduce passenger volumes and flows to a level we believe the air transport system can accommodate.
“This was not an easy decision, as it will result in additional flight cancellations that will have a negative impact on some customers. But doing this in advance allows affected customers to take time to make other arrangements in an orderly manner, rather than have their travel disrupted shortly before or during their journey, with few alternatives available. It will also enable us to more reliably serve all customers.
“I can assure you Air Canada is also working in close cooperation with airports, government, and its third‑party service providers, who all are striving to return our industry to pre‑pandemic standards of operation.
“We are convinced these changes will bring about the improvements we have targeted. But to set expectations, it should also be understood the real benefits of this action will take time and be felt only gradually as the industry regains the reliability and robustness it had attained prior to the pandemic.
“On behalf of all of us at Air Canada, please accept my sincere apologies for any disruption you have experienced or may experience with your travel plans during this unprecedented period. I also assure you that we very clearly see the challenges at hand, that we are taking action, and that we are confident we have the strategy to address them. This is our company’s chief focus at every level.
“Thank you for your patience and understanding. We certainly look forward to future opportunities to serve you and regain your loyalty at a time when we can better demonstrate our commitment to taking good care of customers such as yourself.”