|Despite minuscule travel demand, Canadian airlines continue to schedule tens of thousands of flights per month, only to cancel the vast majority of them several weeks before takeoff. The approach can leave passengers with a drastically changed itinerary or no flight at all, giving them little choice but to accept vouchers they may never use.
Air Canada cut more than 27,000 flights, or 70 per cent, from its November schedule between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, according to figures from aviation data firm Cirium. It cut another 2,000 by the end of October. WestJet, which recently began to offer refunds for cancelled flights, in contrast to its competitors, slashed its November schedule by about 12,400 flights, or 68 per cent, in one week last month. Air Transat scrapped 63 per cent of its flights for November in the same week, leaving it with 123 — down to 100 as of last week.
„It’s called bait and switch,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and head of its global aviation leadership program. The strategy is a response to a shift in customer behaviour, an attempt to woo wary travellers with ample flight options before drastically undersold seats prompt a scheduling cull.
Carriers deny there is anything untoward about recent schedule gutting. „Airline schedules have always been subject to change,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email, noting the company has had to cut capacity by more than 90 per cent since March. „Overall, our schedule continues to operate as planned, and for any customers affected by changes we do provide advance notice and offer options.”
„We do our best to avoid cancelling flights at the last minute,” said Transat spokesperson Christophe Hennebelle. Sunwing and WestJet did not respond immediately to questions.