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Air Canada cancelled 314 flights between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, according to Cirium, an aviation data company.BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

Canadian airlines cancelled hundreds of flights during the past weekend, frustrating travellers amid a new wave of the pandemic that has slashed demand for seats while keeping cabin crews at home either sick or self-isolating.

Air Canada cancelled 314 flights between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, according to Cirium, an aviation data company. WestJet cancelled 304 flights over the same period, the airline said. Air Canada had scheduled 2,120 flights while WestJet sold seats on 1,193 flights for the New Year long weekend.

The airlines are cancelling flights and combining passenger loads to reduce their financial losses heading into January, a traditionally weak period of ticket sales made worse by the pandemic. Typically, January is the month airlines reduce their fares to boost sales ahead of the spring break travel period. This year, they are parking planes and idling crews.

“It’s called the January doldrums,” said John Gradek, who teaches aviation leadership at McGill University.

The carriers set their schedules several weeks in advance and had not planned on the impact the fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 would have on people’s travel plans, Mr. Gradek said.

Travellers can get rebooked or a credit if their flight is cancelled, and are eligible for refunds if the airline does not offer timely alternatives. Those who cancel their ticket for fear of travelling amid the renewed outbreak face cancellation fees.

In any case, consumers whose flights are cancelled will be disappointed, Mr. Gradek said.

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The federal government has advised people to avoid unneeded travel, and warned they risk getting sick or facing an uncertain path home, given the possibilities of closed borders and cancelled flights.

Porter Airlines and Flair Airlines cancelled 10 and 15 flights, respectively, between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3.

WestJet said last week it will reduce its schedule by 15 per cent, or about 68 flights a day, owing to large numbers of employees calling in sick with COVID-19 or isolating because of exposure to a case. On Tuesday, WestJet said its work force had 363 active cases of COVID-19, up from 181 less than a week ago.

WestJet and other airlines are also being hit by slow service because of staff shortages at the contractors that load, fuel and service their planes.

WestJet said it cancelled 83 flights on Tuesday and 54 on Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This story incorrectly said that travellers whose flights are cancelled by airlines cannot get refunds. In fact, travellers are eligible for refunds if the airline does not offer timely alternatives.

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