Air Canada cuts flights out of Charlottetown leaving travellers' plans up in the air
'It's certainly not the news we want to hear'
Air Canada is dropping two flights at Charlottetown Airport as part of a major reduction in service across the airline.
Air Canada announced Wednesday it would cut 77 round trips from its schedule to stabilize its operations.
According to Charlottetown Airport CEO Doug Newson, the departure flights being cut are the 6:35 a.m. flight to Montreal and the 5:15 a.m. to Toronto and the arrival flights being cut are the ones that leave Montreal at 10 p.m. and Toronto at 8:55 p.m.
As of July 6, Air Canada will operate two round trips daily to Toronto and Montreal. A single flight to Ottawa also remains for a total of five round-trip flights by Air Canada out of Charlottetown this summer.
There is no precise news yet of what this will mean for seat capacity at the airport, said Newson. That will depend on the size of planes operating on the remaining flights.
"It'd be anywhere between 25 to 30 per cent of projected seats we had with Air Canada for those months," said Newson.
"It's certainly not the news we want to hear as recovery comes back, but it's better than, I think, putting a schedule on that they can't operate reliably."
As demand for flights has risen with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, airlines around the world have struggled to keep up following a near shutdown in 2020. Flights have been delayed and travellers have faced hours-long waits at airports.
Air Canada is not alone in making cuts. WestJet recently announced it is cutting 16 per cent of flights across its network, said Newson.
Airlines, like many sectors in the tourism industry, are struggling to find sufficient staff to accommodate people keen to travel, he said.
"We all expected it to come back quickly. I don't know if anyone expected it to come back as quick as it has," said Newson.
"It's really disappointing when you think about the last two years and all the optimism for the industry this summer for the industry to try to recover and make some of that money back for the airlines. This is probably the last thing they wanted to do, but the operational integrity of their system is more important than putting a schedule out there that they just can't manage."
'A really difficult time'
Corryn Clemence is the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. and, like Newson, is disappointed but understanding of Air Canada's decision.
There is no point in the airline promising flights it can't deliver, she said.
"It's just a really difficult time," said Clemence.
"After two years, essentially, being shut down, or operating at a very small capacity, it's really difficult to just flip that switch and be back to full capacity."
Labour shortages have also been an issue for tourism operators on P.E.I.
Just hours after the announcement it is impossible to say what impact the announcement will have on the tourism season on P.E.I., Clemence said.
But it seems likely some people who wanted to come to P.E.I. won't be able to. That will lead to cancelled reservations at accommodations, lower ticket sales at festivals and events and fewer people eating out in Island restaurants.
Announcement leads to worry, frustration
Paulette Soloman, owner of the Travel Store, said she got a lot of call from clients worried their summer trips may not happen due to the cancellations.
"Typically if someone's going through Toronto or Montreal, that might not be their end destination," she said. "And so they just want to make sure they're going to get to their family reunions or whatever event this summer that they've booked to go and attend."
Soloman said she's still waiting to hear more details from Air Canada on what will happen to tickets that have already been booked. In the meantime, she's been tracking down her customers to try to figure out the best option for them.
"It might involve a rebooking, a rerouting, rescheduling of flights. In some cases some people may choose to not go, so we will work with them to ... get a refund," she said.
"I think they're a little bit disappointed, maybe a little bit angry," said Travis Stewart, co-owner of the Stewart Travel Group.
"[For] a lot of people, this is their first time travelling again. And they're excited, they're anxious, they want to get going and then see that maybe there's some changes in their itinerary and then it's like, 'Oh no, here we go again.'"
Stewart said that while the announcement isn't that surprising, he still held out hope the travel industry wouldn't go through something like this, particularly while travel is picking up.
"It's come back with a vengeance and everybody seems to want to get back and they want to go and experience travel again," he said. "But unfortunately, it's not the most pleasant experience right now with what's going on."
With files from Brittany Spencer and Island Morning