Holiday carrier Sunwing Airlines is temporarily halting operations, becoming the first Canadian airline to do so amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toronto-based Sunwing said it is no longer taking passengers south, and will suspend all flights once it has flown its customers back to Canada from resort destinations in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and Florida.
About 470 pilots have been told flights will end after March 23 and were issued layoff notices, said Jerry Dias, head of Unifor, the employees’ union. Sunwing has a fleet of about 40 Boeing 737s. The privately owned company flies domestic routes as well as vacation trips to sun spots in the Caribbean and Europe.
Rachel Goldrick, a spokeswoman for Sunwing, said the shutdown is “temporary” and will last until April 10, but “at this time we cannot confirm when commercial southern flight operations will resume. That is why Sunwing was forced to communicate layoffs to our flight and cabin crew members [Monday] evening.”
She said the carrier intends to recall the pilots and flight attendants when service resumes. “This unprecedented situation has had a drastic impact on our business during a short space of time,” she said.
Sunwing’s parent company, Sunwing Travel Group, bills itself as the largest “vertically integrated” travel company in North America, with $3-billion in yearly revenue from divisions that include three tour operators and more than 7,000 hotel rooms at vacation resorts in the Caribbean.
The first of four Sunwing “rescue flights” from Toronto and Montreal departed on Monday to bring 500 Canadians home from Honduras, Aruba and Panama, countries that have announced border closings, she said.
On Tuesday, “we expect to bring over 11,000 customers home to Canada and we are committed to doing so until all our customers are safely home,” Ms. Goldrick said. “Customers are returning on their scheduled flights, with any remaining seats being used to accommodate other Sunwing customers wanting to return earlier at no additional cost.”
A global airline group on Tuesday said most airlines have only enough cash to survive for three months, and predicted a large number would fail because of the pandemic that has closed some borders and caused a steep plunge in demand for air travel.
Mr. Dias and Sunwing added their voices to calls for government aid to prop up the industry.
“We will not accept any situation where workers are left to fend for themselves, not at Sunwing, not anywhere," he said. “That’s why we’ve called on all levels of government to confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action to protect the livelihoods of workers affected by this crisis.”
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