• Nicholas Chute

Canada's Airline Industry - What's Next Regarding COVID-19

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An Air Canada Boeing 787 taxis for departure at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Photo/Dennis Benett)

After what has become easily one of the most damaging and turbulent few weeks in the history of the aviation industry, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Canadian airlines. During the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we have seen a record breaking reduction in frequency and capacity regarding flights worldwide. From border closures, airspace restrictions, government mandated travel bans and so on, airlines have taken a hit across the globe. How are Canadian airlines dealing with it? Let's look at the industry within the country and see what's next.

NOTE - For length reasons, we will only look at and discuss a few of Canada's major airlines.


Effective March 18th, The Government of Canada has imposed travel restrictions for all flights entering Canada to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Any foreign individual, who has been present outside of Canada or the United States in the last 14 days will be prohibited entry and will be denied boarding. This does not apply to Canadian Citizens, Canadian Permanent Residents, Immediate Family Members and certain exempt persons, so long as no person is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Due to new entry restrictions imposed by the Canadian Government, only Canadians, U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents, and the direct family of Canadians or Permanent Residents can travel to Canada. Only travelers with a Canadian passport, Canadian PR, or U.S. passport will be able to check in through automated channels. The direct family of Canadians or Permanent Residents that have a foreign passport will need to be checked in at the airport by an agent.

In accordance with the mutual agreement between Canada and the United States to limit non-essential travel, and in an ongoing effort to contain the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential travel will be restricted between Canada and the United States. These new restrictions prohibit any foreign national, including United States nationals, from entering Canada for optional or discretionary purposes.

Non-essential travel includes, but is not limited to: tourism, recreation, shopping for non-essential goods, and/or sight-seeing.

The restriction comes into effect at 00:01 (AM) EDT on March 21, 2020, and ends at 12:00PM (Noon) EDT on April 21, 2020 .

Air Canada

Canada's national flag carrier is in more than a good position to rough out the pandemic, having an approximate $7B dollar fallback amid growing travel restrictions. Air Canada has significantly reduced it's capacity by approximately 80% in April. However, even though the company is a solid position to ride this out, it won't come without struggles for thousands of employees.

Air Canada is set to lay off more than 5 100 members of its cabin crews because of a dramatic drop in flights related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Air Canada flight attendants, confirmed the news, saying the layoffs will affect about 3 600 Air Canada crew members and all 1 549 of its members who work for the airline's Rouge subsidiary. That represents about half of the 10 000 crew members currently employed at Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge. According to the union, the layoffs will be effective until at least April 30. Those affected and placed on "Off Duty Status" will be able to collect employment Insurance. You can view up-to-date details about flight status and cancellations at the link below.


Growing Calgary based airline WestJet, released their plans in an attempt to further curve the pandemic and keep their company in a good position throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. On Sunday, March 22 at 11:59 p.m. MDT, the airline will suspend scheduled commercial operations for all international and trans-border flights for a 30 day period. In addition, WestJet will also reduce their domestic schedule by approximately 50%. At this point, all network changes are in place for the next 30 days.

WestJet has already begun grounding a large segment of their fleet, with aircraft being stored in places like Calgary & Toronto, with a few others seeing some aircraft ride out the pandemic there. The company has been publicly transparent in their efforts to curve the Coronavirus, publishing lots of information to inform passengers. Below is a current up-to-date list of affected flights that WestJet has made public.

Guests in affected rows of the above flights are considered close contacts and may be at risk for exposure. Public health officials recommend that affected individuals self-isolate for 14 days after arrival and monitor symptoms. Guests are advised to contact their primary care provider, or their local public health unit if they are concerned that they may have been exposed to or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

The airline will continue to operate repatriation flights to bring Canadian citizens and residents back home because of growing travel bans and restrictions globally. As these actions will result in a “significant capacity reduction” and a number of grounded aircraft, Westjet confirmed major reductions in staffing levels.

“The first and most preferred option is to ask our WestJetters to consider voluntary leaves, early outs, voluntary early retirements, among other voluntary measures,” WestJets public statement read. “We will release these details as soon as they are available". You can view up-to-date details about flight status and cancellations at the link below.

Air Transat

Canadian leisure airline Air Transat is also going through the motions of dealing with the rising COVID-19 measures. As the airline is primarily a leisure market carrier and in the middle of the normal spike in southern based traffic, Air Transat will be seeing a major reduction in frequency and capacity in the coming weeks. Sales for departures until April 30 are suspended immediately from and to most destinations in Europe and the United States. Flights will continue for a few more days in order to repatriate customers to their home country, these flights will be completed by April 1st. So as to allow as many repatriations as possible, sales will, however, remain temporarily open in both directions between Montreal and Paris and Lisbon, and between Toronto and London and Lisbon.

A date for a full halt to operations will be announced soon. Sales are also halted immediately from and to the Caribbean and Mexico. Again, flights will continue for a few more days in order to repatriate customers to Canada. Transat is advising its Canadian customers who were scheduled to depart in the coming days to heed the government’s recommendations and postpone their departure. For domestic flights, passengers are encouraged to check that their flight is maintained on the airlines website, which is updated regularly. At the date of writing this, we haven't seen any information regarding layoffs for Air Transat employees. To date, however, Air Transat announced Wednesday that it will reduce work hours and salaries for employees and executives as it focuses on repatriating customers to their home countries. More information about the airlines operations can be viewed at the link below.


Canadian leisure carrier Sunwing will suspend operations on March 24th and layoff all its roughly 470 pilots on April 8th due to COVID-19 related travel bans, according the union representing Sunwing’s pilots. Sunwing is offering vacant seats on its repatriation flights free of charge to any Canadians stranded in sun-kissed parts of the hemisphere due to the novel COVID-19, including to non-Sunwing customers.

Sunwing aims to fly about 11 000 Canadians back to home soil by Thursday, bringing the total number of repatriated Sunwing passengers to more than 33 000. Sunwing is suspending all southbound flights between March 17th and April 30th. We anticipate that staffing levels will be significantly reduced within the

“We understand a lot of Canadians are still stranded outside the country and struggling to get home,” said Stephen Hunter, CEO of the airline’s parent company.

“That’s why we want to open up any extra capacity we have. It’s the Canadian thing to do.”

Any extra details regarding flight status, repatriation flights or cancellations can be found at the airlines website via the link below.


Canadian ultra low-cost carrier Swoop has been also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on Sunday, March 22, 2020, at 11:59 p.m., Swoop will suspend all international and trans-border flights. On Monday, March 23, 2020, the airline will start repatriation flights for all Swoop travelers to bring the more than 2 300 travelers home. As travel has not been restricted within Canada, domestic travel is continuing to operate as usual.

Swoop president addresses flight flexibility, "we understand that travellers are looking for flexibility when booking future flights, and we encourage all travellers to ensure they have the appropriate level of travel insurance for their trip. Through our booking platform, we offer ModiFly - a product that enables travellers to change their travel dates online up to 24 hours prior to departure."

At the time of writing, we have yet to come across any concrete details regarding Swoop employees. Because Swoops parent company Westjet will be reducing staffing, we anticipate that Swoop will follow suit.

As we don't want you to read for hours, we will stop our specific coverage on Canadian airlines as is.

As we look into the future, what is there to be optimistic about? Well, even though times are rough there is a lot of confidence the industry will recover as it always does. Air travel is a necessity and is being treated as such across the globe. Once the COVID-19 virus has passed and moved on, there will be many lessons and precautions to implement based off these hard times. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

We would love to spread the message that we take the precautions necessary to ensure no further wild spread of the novel Coronavirus and ensure we work together. We're all in this together. Our best wishes goes to out to our many friends working in the industry affected by COVID-19 and we know that you'll be right back again in due time.

Stay safe, stay home and practice good hygiene everyone. We will recover.

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