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

Just Posted

Cache Creek council votes to rejoin local transit system

Details need to be worked out, but hopes are that change can be expedited

Ashcroft residents get information at Community Forum

Water treatment plant, recycling, an Eco-Depot, the budget, and more among items addressed

Elizabeth May’s wedding will be a ‘low-carbon affair’ in Victoria on Earth Day

Green party leader’s wedding party to depart in a cavalcade of electric cars

Gas prices spike in northern B.C. ahead of the long weekend

Fuel went up 17 cents overnight in Prince Rupert

Dashcam captures close call between minivan, taxi at busy Vancouver intersection

To make the footage more nerve-wracking, a pedestrian can be seen standing at the corner

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. mom wages battle to get back four kids taken from her in Egypt

Sara Lessing of Mission has help from Abbotsford law firm

VIDEO: Fire guts Peachland home

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze in the Okanagan neighbourhood

$6K raised in one day’s time for family of woman gunned down in Penticton

GoFundMe launched for family of Darlene Knippelberg, to pay for funeral costs and other expenses

Most Read