“Air Canada’s operations too have been disrupted by the industry’s complex and unavoidable challenges,” Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau told frequent flyers in a letter June 29, offering his “sincere apologies” to disrupted travelers.
“If you’ve encountered delays and cancellations recently, I apologize,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said in a message on Instagram June 30.
Welcome to the summer of airline apologies.
Airline operations are in disarray from the U.S. to Europe and Australia as the industry is beset with staffing and other challenges as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. While U.S. and European airlines have faced flight disruptions and been cutting summer schedules since April, Rousseau’s message shows the troubles have flown north to Canada. This is not entirely new, the country’s busiest airport, Toronto Pearson — and Air Canada’s largest hub — has been faced repeated overcrowding and flight cancellations attributed, mostly, to airport and other ground staffing since at least May but the situation appeared to be somewhat contained.
“Around the world, there are recurring incidents of flight delays and airport congestion, resulting from a complex array of persistent factors impacting airlines and our partners in the aviation ecosystem,” Rousseau told customers, echoing similar comments from other airlines.
Lufthansa, after it and its budget subsidiary Eurowings, cancelled more than 3,000 flights in July and August, said air traffic control “strikes, weather events and, in particular, an increased Corona sickness rate” were driving its schedule reductions.
And Delta CEO Ed Bastian, in a town hall to staff on June 29, named the U.S. air traffic control system as the most “stressed” in the aviation ecosystem currently. Other players, including the Transportation Security Administration, airports, third-party vendors, and Delta itself, also faced challenges and were contributing to delays and cancellations.
Air Canada is, so far, alone among Canadian airlines in cutting July and August flights. The airline is cancelling an average of 154 flights per day, or 15 percent of its schedule, during both months. The reductions will only occur on domestic Canada and U.S. routes primarily from its Montreal and Toronto hubs. And Air Canada will suspend four routes in the process: Montreal to Baltimore-Washington, Kelowna, and Pittsburgh — both U.S. routes only resumed in June after a pandemic hiatus — and Toronto to Fort McMurray.
“It’s not unexpected but maybe the level (15 percent) is a little higher than expected (maybe 12 percent),” Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker said of Air Canada’s reductions. “There just isn’t enough people working at airports to handle the demand we are seeing. This a worldwide issue.”
Previously, Air Canada had planned to fly roughly 80 percent of its 2019 capacity this summer. The airline was looking to 2023 for a full recovery.
WestJet, Canada’s second largest airline, said on June 30 that it was not cancelling additional flights as it had “proactively reduced capacity” this summer in order to provide travelers with a “stable operation.” The airline will fly nearly 23 percent fewer flights during the three-month June-to-August period this year than it did in 2019, Cirium schedule data show.
Porter Airlines, which operates from a main base at Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport, plans to operate its “summer flight schedule as planned,” a spokesperson said. Passenger numbers at the airline are “comparable” to 2019 levels, they added.
And Transat, which recently completed a transformation to a leisure airline from an integrated travel company, “does not anticipate any cancellations at the moment,” a spokesperson said.
Air Canada, Porter, Transat, and WestJet are scheduled to fly more than 76 percent of the seats in Canada from June through August, according to Cirium.
While Rousseau did not say it in his letter, the general view in the industry is that operations will improve this fall after the summer peak eases. That can be seen in most airlines’ decision to only cut schedules through August.