Sunwing axes Winnipeg flights to Mazatlán, Los Cabos

Airline says decision based on ‘operational and business constraints’


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Flights from Winnipeg to Mazatlán and Los Cabos are the latest in a string of routes Sunwing has axed.

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Flights from Winnipeg to Mazatlán and Los Cabos are the latest in a string of routes Sunwing has axed.

Sunwing’s weekly Thursday flights to Los Cabos are cancelled, effective Feb. 2. Friday trips to Mazatlán via the Toronto-based airliner are cancelled beginning Feb. 10.

The news comes amid Sunwing chopping flights in Saskatoon, northern Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

“It’s absurd,” said Gábor Lukács, president of Air Passenger Rights. “You cannot walk away, as an airline, from your contract to the passengers.”

Trouble brewed last year when Sunwing outlined a “pretty aggressive” operating plan for the winter but could not obtain the needed pilots, said John Gradek, an aviation management lecturer with McGill University.

“Sunwing is basically dismantling its winter operations, slowly but surely,” Gradek said. “They have to cut back schedules so it reflects the capabilities to fly… with the people they have.”

Sunwing was banking on using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to hire pilots from abroad. Last October, Unifor — which represents 16,000 Canadian aviation sector workers— sent letters to Sunwing Airlines’s president and the director of the Temporary Foreign Worker program disputing the search.

“We do not believe there is a shortage of pilots in Canada capable of — or willing to do the work — required by Sunwing,” Barret Armann, Unifor Local 7378’s president, wrote to Sunwing’s president.

He alleged the union had “consistently attempted” to help Sunwing develop a plan to hire and train qualified pilots.

“The need for training should not be an impediment to being hired,” Armann wrote. “Sunwing should consider the pipeline of pilots available at smaller airlines and hire accordingly.”

Sunwing backed away from hiring around 65 foreign temporary pilots, according to a Unifor news release in December.

It didn’t properly adjust its flight schedule, Gradek said.

“(Now) they’re piecemealing the operations which are not… as profitable and basically looking at redeploying resources,” he said.

Passengers are entitled to a refund, or an alternative flight, if the airliner gives at least two weeks’ notice, Gradek said.

Sunwing is offering its customers “the ability to change their vacation destination at current system rates,” and a $100 CAD future travel credit, a spokesperson for the carrier wrote in a statement.

“The decision to reduce winter flight operations in Winnipeg from February onwards was deemed necessary due to operational and business constraints that would prevent us from delivering the standards of service our customers both expect and deserve,” the spokesperson wrote.

“We apologize to our valued customers and airport partner in Winnipeg for the inconvenience and disruption,” they continued.

The compensation is not enough, Lukács from Air Passenger Rights countered.

“If I start selling a service in a province without knowing if I can deliver on it, it very quickly gets into a shady gray zone,” he said. “An airline cannot gamble with passengers’ money.”

Flight prices change drastically depending on when you book, Lukács noted. So, customers could take a financial loss when choosing a new flight.

“(Sunwing) can’t expect the passenger to go to a different city,” Lukács added.

He recommended passengers “hold Sunwing accountable,” citing a class action lawsuit against Sunwing being contemplated in Saskatchewan.

Provincial consumer protection agencies should become more involved in such situations, Lukács added.

“Air travel is regulated by the federal government,” a provincial spokesperson noted. “The province wouldn’t comment on any potential or speculative complaints filed with the Consumer Protection Bureau.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has repeatedly expressed concern over Sunwing’s handling of operations this winter.

Gradek believes more cancellations are coming.

“They’ve got to cut back a significant amount of flights to match their capability,” he said.

An airliner like Sunwing is needed in Canada, he added.

“If Sunwing disappears, Canadians can expect a significant increase in the price of their sun vacations,” he said. “(I’m) keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not the sunset for Sunwing, but the odds don’t look very good.”

The Winnipeg Airports Authority called it “always disappointing to see a route paused or cancelled,” but it’s pleased Sunwing will continue with other flights this winter, spokesman Michel Rosset wrote in an email.

“We will continue to do everything we can to grow travel options out of Winnipeg Richardson international Airport,” he added.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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