Flight cancellations scramble travellers' plans as hopes for a spike in demand fade

MONTREAL — Rachel Farrell can now claim the unfortunate distinction of having two destination weddings called off in one year.

The 26-year-old event co-ordinator had booked a Transat flight out of Halifax for Feb. 15, 2021, as part of her planned nuptials in the Dominican Republic, but was told this week the airline had cancelled the trip and would not make the journey until six days later.

article continues below

She and her fiancee had first booked their trip package for last April, which Transat also nixed after it grounded its entire fleet amid border closures.

"I was upset but understood that it wasn’t Air Transat's fault, so we would wait until air travel resumed and rebook as soon as we could since refunds weren’t an option," Farrell said.

She did just that in July, rebooking the flight for February using travel credit based on the $37,000 she and her nearly two dozen guests paid for the package.

"Even though they knowingly chose to cancel my rebooked wedding group, they still won’t give us a refund," Farrell said, noting Transat is again offering credit.

"My travel agent has told me that even if I rebook next week, they might still push the dates further... I don’t know what to do now and all I really want is to get married."

The problem is increasingly common, with Canadian airlines cancelling hundreds of flights as hopes for a spike in demand fall flat, snarling plans for the few passengers who remain.

Air Canada and WestJet have cancelled at least 439 flights so far this month, according to figures from flight data firm Cirium.

The inordinately high number comes after airlines banked on a return of business travel and a continued uptick in leisure trips following months of profit loss, says John Gradek, who heads McGill University’s Global Aviation Leadership program.

"They’ve decided since about the end of July to let loose on scheduled services and increasing the number of routes, at the same time hoping that the government will loosen up some of its restrictions. And that’s not been the case," Gradek said.

Now, carriers are cancelling the half-booked flights and consolidating passengers on remaining ones to cut costs.

"There has not been a takeup by the Canadian travelling public of those seats that are being offered by the carriers, so they’re cutting back those services significantly...and it’s being done piecemeal rather than being done wholesale," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC, TSX:TRZ)

© Virden Empire-Advance