TORONTO — The travel industry is right now consumed with news about the pandemic, and rightly so.
But not too long ago – at least it doesn’t feel that long ago – the industry was hit hard by 9/11. The fallout from that crisis included the closure of what had been a thriving airline and tour operator.
Twenty years ago Canada 3000 ceased operations. Former employees, together with its subsidiaries, divisions and partners, plan to celebrate the company they loved and worked for with a 20-year reunion slated for Nov. 9, 2021.
“Working at Canada 3000 Airlines was the best job I ever had!” says Angela Saclamacis, who worked for Canada 3000 right up until the end. “It wasn’t just a job, it was being part of a family of like-minded people who all wanted to have a fun time while working hard to be the best airline we could.”
Canada 3000 was founded in 1988. Saclamacis, who joined the company in 1991 as Manager, Operations Support and in 1995 was named Manager, Corporate Communications, tells Travelweek that she quickly learned how to navigate the PR and communications world in order to take the airline through an IPO (the most successful IPO in 2000), a triple merger with CanJet and Royal Airlines, the first polar direct/nonstop flight from Toronto to Delhi on the first A340-300 aircraft in the world, and more.
When Canada 3000 ceased operations on November 8, 2001, it had more than 90 destinations worldwide, and more than 4,500 employees.
CANADA 3000’S FINAL DAYS
After air travel dropped sharply in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, in early October 2001 then-Transport Minister David Collenette announced a $160 million bailout for Canada’s airlines. Days later Canada 3000’s chairman, John Lecky, said Canada 3000 could run of money by Christmas unless it got more help from the government.
While Lecky was no doubt hoping to spur the government into action – and Canada 3000 was given federal government loan guarantees of up to $75 million – his comment sent bookings further into a tailspin. Air traffic, especially leisure traffic – Canada 3000’s bread and butter – had fallen too far, too fast after 9/11, and the airline couldn’t recover. On Nov. 8 Canada 3000 grounded its planes and ceased operations. Canada 3000 Holidays followed soon after.
Saclamacis remembers those last days. She first got word from company president Angus Kinnear. “The toughest time was when Angus … or AJK as we all affectionately call him … asked me to come into his office while I was working late one evening. He handed me a paper cocktail napkin with his signature handwriting on it, with key points for a press release he wanted me to send out. It was to advise the public that the airline was ceasing operations. I remember walking back to my office trying to hold back tears. But when I started typing, they flowed onto my keyboard. I tried to remain optimistic but reality set in that the airline wouldn’t ever become what we always imagined it to be.”
Another former Canada 3000 employee, Patricia Marzec, was a Canada 3000 flight attendant.
Says Marzec: “When I started at Canada 3000 in 1989, as a flight attendant, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Now it’s 2021 and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember and feel thankful about how lucky I am to have worked for a wonderful airline that had an incredible impact not just on me but on all of us. Best years and memories of my life!”
A very difficult and emotional situation shared by Marzec underlines Canada 3000’s commitment to its employees: “I was in the Cayman Islands and I got into a critical accident, resulting in major head trauma and compound fractures of my femur. I was unconscious for days. Mr. Kinnear (AJK) had been made aware that I needed more specialized treatment but I could not fly in a pressurized environment. He arranged for an unpressurized Medivac Learjet to fly me to FLL. AJK and his ops team not only took care of everything for me but thought of my family and flew them to FLL too, to be with me.
“Both Jean Jones, Director of Inflight Services, and Karen Wilton, Manager of Training and Standards Cabin Safety, were asked by Angus to fly down for a few days and check on me. With me still in an unconscious state, Jean and Karen read many messages and cards sent from many of the C3 family sending well wishes. The Canada 3000 family all came together. I have never felt so proud and blessed to say to this day, ‘I worked for Canada 3000, leading the way’.”
Marzec adds that “there will always be a part of me that can never thank Mr. Angus Kinnear and my Canada 3000 family enough for what they did for me in giving me the strength to survive. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Marzec is the organizing chair of the Nov. 9, 2021 Canada 3000 reunion. The event is scheduled to run 7 – 11 p.m. at Dave & Buster’s, located at 2021 Winston Park Drive, Unit E, Oakville, ON.
“While this milestone represents a sad time when the airline folded 20 years ago, we instead prefer to remember the anniversary with a celebration,” she says.
More than 100 former employees have already expressed interest in joining the festivities, she added. Details are being shared on Canada 3000 Airlines’ Facebook group.