A surge in COVID-19 infections, travel restrictions and declining demand: It’s deja vu feeling for airlines, forced to cancel flights due to the Omicron variable. Meanwhile, Transat AT is preparing to lay off 160 employees that have been laid off since the summer.
The Quebec tour operator followed suit with WestJet and Air Canada on Thursday, indicating that 30% of its scheduled flights will be canceled by February 25 as bookings decline and requests for cancellations increase.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and, depending on how it evolves, will determine if other modifications will be necessary for the rest of our winter programme,” said Transat AT spokesperson, Pierre Tessier.
This resurgence of infections is a step backwards for the aviation sector, which is beginning to recover from the first year of the epidemic that left deep scars.
The decision by parent company Air Transat comes at a time when Air Canada decided to reduce its service to 14 sunny destinations from January 24 to April 30. WestJet has also reduced its flight schedule by 15% through the end of January. Many flight attendants have to self-isolate because they have contracted COVID-19.
In the United States, airlines have also canceled several thousand flights since the holiday season. “We are at a traditionally low time in demand,” said John Gradec, an aviation expert and lecturer at McGill University. “I don’t think there will be major service cuts like in the past. Hopefully this will be a thing of the past in March.”
Transat AT did not wish to specify the routes involved. These are, according to the company, “flights whose profitability has been affected by lower occupancy rates” and at all “destinations offered this winter”.
The tour operator says it will reach out to customers affected by the changes. They will be able to get a refund. Changes to their booking date will also be submitted.
According to flight data from Cirium, Air Transat aircraft were scheduled to make 264 flights this month. Since the start of the year, at least 1,417 flights have been canceled by Air Canada (765), WestJet (615), FLIR (23), Porter (2) and Sunwing (1), according to Cerium.
On December 15, due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant, the Trudeau government advised against non-essential overseas travel. Ottawa has also issued a warning to travelers that their return home could be complicated by the new travel restrictions.
By email, Air Canada said it does not expect to lay off workers despite the drop in activity. At Transat AT, Pierre Tessier was limited to noting that the situation was developing “at breakneck speed” and that “appropriate decisions” would be made “at the right time”.
The tour operator also sent two layoffs to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity last month regarding 161 employees. These are non-union employees, according to Transat AT’s vice president of public affairs, Christoph Henbell.
“Canada’s emergency wage support expired on August 28, and in Quebec, employees can remain on layoffs for up to six months,” he said. At the end of February, we have to call them back or fire them. ”
Since gradually resuming its activities last July, Transat AT has recalled many employees who lost their livelihood due to the health crisis. Henbell said the company had been hoping for more paybacks, but the alternative to Omicron “spoils the waters.” According to the notification sent to the Ministry of Labor, workers will be laid off on February 26 and 27.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday, Transat AT’s address closed at $4.14, up two cents, or 0.5%.
– in collaboration with William Leclerc, Journalism
2600: Number of active employees of the tour operator. It had about 5,200 employees before the pandemic.
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