Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday January 5, 2023
Ottawa is passing the buck on this holiday season’s air travel chaos
Over the past couple of weeks, air travellers have experienced what will likely be remembered as the most difficult Christmas travel peak in recent memory. For Canadians, it was a sad repeat of the challenges they faced last summer. While much of the chaos air travellers experienced this Christmas can be chalked up to bad weather, those travelling with Southwest Airlines and Sunwing, in particular, saw their plans upended by challenging recoveries in the days that followed.
Both airlines saw their operations turned upside down, leaving thousands of customers affected. But that is where the similarities end. The response of the respective airlines, as well as that of the senior-most transportation official in each country, couldn’t have been more different.
Southwest made the difficult but ultimately correct decision to reset their severely disrupted operations by cancelling upwards of two-thirds of their flights for much of the week following Dec. 23 to get aircraft and crew back in place. By Dec. 30, Southwest resumed near normal operations and started its recovery.
Sunwing, on the other hand, correctly, however belatedly, leased aircraft from other carriers to deal with their stranded customers but also was forced to cancel flights until February, including all its flights out of Saskatchewan. While the airline confirms that most stranded travellers have now returned to Canada, the longer-term cancellations make it clear that the airline marketed and sold flights which they did not have enough resources to operate. Where Southwest took the “short-term pain for long-term gain” approach, Sunwing decided that extending and spreading the pain well into the winter season made more sense.
While U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on virtually every major network news program, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra took to Twitter to voice his concern.
Against this backdrop of air travel chaos, several key lessons can be drawn. The first and most important lesson is to be pro-active.
Many of the issues faced by travellers were not only predictable, they were predicted. The problems travellers encountered during the summer peak became self-evident by spring yet nothing was done. With its sprawling bureaucracy, it should not be too much to expect Transport Canada to better monitor operational performance so that trends can be more easily identified and appropriately addressed.
Mr. Alghabra spent 2022 playing catch-up rather than leading. He should be the last person in Canada surprised by anything happening at airports during his watch, yet feigning surprise or being firmly in denial, was his and his department’s modus operandi. By being pro-active, he could have helped alleviate some of the long lines at airport security and customs that plagued airports last summer and could have been in a stronger position to encourage Sunwing to repatriate its stranded customers in a more timely fashion. (Continued: The Globe and Mail)