Canadian airlines say they have yet to experience the same Omicron-related staffing shortages as other airlines in the world, which have led to thousands of flights cancelled during the holidays. Instead, winter weather conditions in this country are causing some delays.
Globally, more than 3,000 flights were cancelled Monday, adding to about 6,000 on the weekend, according to FlightAware, a real-time flight information website.
In Canada, the delays because of weather have added to the travel chaos resulting from the outbreak of the new variant. Just weeks before the holidays, the federal government issued an advisory against all international travel, voiding some travel insurance and leading to hours-long waits on the phone as Canadians attempt to change or cancel their trips.
Airport authority spokespeople for Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary said Monday that weather conditions are behind most of the flight disruptions, with British Columbia and Alberta under extreme cold warnings.
Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport are experiencing departure delays that average 45 minutes, and Calgary International Airport delays are more than an hour, according to FlightAware. As of Monday afternoon, 51 flights from Toronto, 22 from Vancouver and 29 from Calgary had been cancelled.
Spokespeople from Air Canada , Air Transat , WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Porter Airlines said they were not experiencing the same levels of staff shortages as U.S. carriers, which have seen the bulk of global cancellations and delays.
In the U.S., airline employees for federal contractors, including American Airlines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways, are not yet required by law to be vaccinated. In November, President Joe Biden delayed the mandatory vaccine date until Jan. 4, 2022, after unions warned that the requirement could create staff shortages and labour disputes.
United Airlines Inc. , however, implemented a vaccine mandate for its employees after a Texas judge rejected employee claims that they were being put in an “impossible position” by being forced to choose between a vaccine or unpaid leave.
For Canadian employees working in federally regulated industries, including air travel, vaccinations have been mandatory since the end of October, 2021. After the deadline, Air Canada and WestJet together suspended more than 1,000 of their 35,000 employees who were not fully vaccinated. All passengers 12 or older must now be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative PCR test to board a plane.
An Air Canada spokesperson said the airline had the crews needed to operate on schedule. Air Transat said the carrier had yet to cancel any flights in the past few days as a result of the variant, and does not anticipate any cancellations.
WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said the majority of the airline’s cancellations over the weekend were weather-related. “The last few days were some of our busiest since prepandemic carrying nearly 50,000 guests a day on 500-plus flights at peak.”
In the U.S., JetBlue had cancelled about 10 per cent of its Sunday flights and delayed more than a third as of Sunday afternoon. The carrier said it has seen an increasing number of sick calls as a result of Omicron, despite entering the Christmas season with its highest staffing levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
United Airlines is also among those particularly affected by staffing shortages, with hundreds of flights cancelled over the holiday weekend. The airline dropped an additional 115 of its 4,000 scheduled flights on Monday, according to spokesperson Maddie King.
Globally, because of staffing shortages in critical industries, some countries are experimenting with shorter quarantine times for fully vaccinated travellers and workers who test positive for the virus. In the days leading up to Christmas, Britain shortened the mandatory isolation time from 10 days to seven for those who produce two negative rapid tests on Day 6 and 7 of isolation.
Current restrictions in Canada require that those who have symptoms or test positive for the virus must self-isolate for 10 days from when they first developed symptoms, the day of a positive test result or the date of exposure to a positive case. As of Dec. 21, unvaccinated travellers must quarantine for 14 days after arrival.
Gabor Lukacs, president of advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said that while passengers are entitled to a refund if their itinerary was changed by the airline, they are not automatically entitled if they want to change their travel plans themselves as a result of the pandemic. A refund of the airfare with taxes is always owed when a flight is cancelled, but extra lump sum compensation is not owed if the cancellation is outside the airline’s control.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.