Airlines shift planes to get March Break travellers home amid Max 8 grounding

A number of domestic flights were cancelled

An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max aircraft arriving from Toronto prepares to land at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on March 12, 2019. Two Canadian airlines dealing with the grounding of Boeing Max 8 jets say they have re-assigned other planes to accommodate travellers returning home from March Break vacations. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Two Canadian airlines dealing with the grounding of Boeing Max 8 jets say they have re-assigned other planes to accommodate travellers returning home from March Break vacations.

Both Air Canada and WestJet said Sunday they shifted planes to focus on routes taking travellers to and from vacation destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean.

But the airlines also acknowledged that despite those efforts, the loss of the Boeing jets caused the cancellation of a number of domestic flights over the weekend, as well as delays on customer support lines.

“Recognizing that it is March Break, our priority was to cover our north-south flying and so we have been able to accommodate the vast majority of customers travelling south or returning from the holiday,” Air Canada said in a statement.

The company did not say how many of its domestic flights had been cancelled but acknowledged “capacity challenges” on those routes.

READ MORE:Air Canada, WestJet expected to take financial hit from 737 Max 8 ban

Air Canada said it was working to add capacity in these markets “within the constraints imposed by the 737 fleet grounding.”

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said that since the Max 8s were grounded this week the company has been working to off-set the impact.

“Of the more than 65,000 guests booked on MAX flights up to March 31, more than 85 per cent will have had little to no changes to their flight schedule,” Stewart said in a statement.

On its website, the company said it had been working hard to limit cancellations for people returning from southern destinations.

WestJet said Sunday the changes it made resulted in the cancellation of 14 flights affecting approximately 1,600 passengers, with the majority re-booked on flights Sunday or Monday.

Of those cancelled flights, all were domestic except for a single trip from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Our teams have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to limit cancellations to our sunny destinations during spring break and as a result, there have been no sun market cancellations, ensuring that families will be on their way to the beaches and sunshine,” WestJet said.

Last Wednesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau grounded the Max 8s as a precautionary move, three days after the Ethiopian Airlines disaster that killed all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians.

Air Canada has 24 Max 8s and WestJet has 13 — six per cent and seven per cent of their fleets of 400 and 175 aircraft, respectively.

Air Canada has estimated that its Max 8 jets carried between 9,000 and 12,000 passengers a day. WestJet said the grounding order will affect about 1,400 customers daily.

Aviation industry expert and McGill University associate professor Karl Moore said the companies were planning for the return of March Break travellers this week.

But regardless of how much juggling both Air Canada and WestJet did, there were bound to be cancelled or delayed flights because each company has lost thousands of seats, he said.

“They’re moving capacity around but there are limits to what they can do,” he said. ”It’s going to cost them money because there are going to be a bunch of people who miss flights and they’ll have to pay those costs.”

Moore said after the next few days pass, the industry will move into a period in April and May when travel numbers drop. That will give companies more time to cope with the loss of the planes and figure out a strategy to address it, he added.

The lull should also give Boeing an opportunity to address any issues with the jets, train pilots and begin to repair public trust in their planes which has been damaged after the crash, Moore said.

“Job number one in that industry is safety because if people feel it’s unsafe they’re not going to travel,” he said.

“Boeing has got to say … ‘We’re not going to have the Max 8 in the air unless we’re fully confident they’re safe to travel.’ It’s going to take time for Boeing to win people back.”

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Change in service: Port Hardy is switching from bi-weekly garbage pick up to weekly schedule

The cost for the weekly garbage pick up service is an additional $30.12 annually.

Cancelling bus service between Campbell River and Port Hardy will compromise health access, region warns

Mount Waddington Health Network says transportation primary factor for rural health access

Badinotti makes cash donations to North Island food banks

‘it’s fantastic that they are supporting community organizations like this’

‘A bottomless well of love for people and communities’

Parksville Qualicum Beach News editor JR Rardon dies at age 61

NDP pushing for 10 days of paid sick days for all working Canadians

NDP has made the issue a requirement for their support of the Liberal government

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Feds delay national action plan for missing and murdered Indigenous women

Meanwhile, the pandemic has exacerbated the violence facing many Indigenous women and girls

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

COLUMN: Canada needs to remember rural communities as thoughts turn to pandemic recovery

Small towns often rely on tourism, which has been decimated by COVID-19

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

Most Read