Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
In the wake of a turbulent holiday travel season, Sunwing has made further reductions to its winter schedule – this time in Manitoba, where two seasonal departures in Winnipeg will been scrapped.
The cancellations include weekly flights from Winnipeg to Los Cabos on Thursdays, starting on Feb. 2, and Mazatlán on Fridays starting on Feb 10, Sunwing confirmed in a statement to PAX on Thursday (Jan. 19).
Travel advisors with impacted bookings will be notified directly via Sunwing’s standard communications protocol, the company said.
Sunwing said it is offering impacted customers in Winnipeg the ability to change their destination at current system rates, along with a $100 CAD future travel credit “as a goodwill gesture.”
READ MORE: Paying a big price - aviation experts weigh in on Sunwing’s struggles
Customers are being advised to contact their travel agent or the Sunwing Sales Centre at 1-877-786-9464 to change their destination and receive this credit.
“We apologize to our valued customers and airport partner in Winnipeg for the inconvenience and disruption,” Sunwing stated. “The decision to reduce winter flight operations in Winnipeg from February onwards was deemed necessary due to operational and business constraints that would prevent us from delivering the standards of service our customers both expect and deserve when travelling with Sunwing.”
The company is “hopeful” customers will travel again with the tour operator as it works to re-establish a full program from Winnipeg for the 2023-2024 winter season.
The scaled-down service is just another brick in a wall of cancellations Sunwing has made in recent weeks after its request to hire 63 pilots as temporary foreign workers for winter was denied.
The reason why Sunwing’s request wasn’t approved before Christmas (after being green lit for several years) isn’t entirely clear, but the consequences have been disastrous.
READ MORE: "A day of chaos": Sunwing cancels additional flights from Regina this winter
Near the end of December, Sunwing announced a suspension of all flights in Saskatchewan until (and including) Feb. 3, 2022 as the company repositioned aircraft to assist in repatriating customers stranded in destinations following an intense snowstorm in parts of Canada.
The tour operator has since cut half of its flights from Saskatoon and almost all seasonal flights from Regina.
Schedules in Atlantic Canada have also been thinned out as select routes out of Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax have been removed.
READ MORE: ACTA calls for commission protection amid Sunwing cancellations; anger grows
Sunwing’s winter schedule in Northern Ontario, as of Feb. 1, is also cancelled. completely.
The decisions have resulted in a storm of (rightfully) angry travellers – many of whom have shared their grievances with mainstream media outlets – and it has also sparked backlash within Canada’s travel trade community as agents process cancellations without compensation.
Sunwing is not protecting commissions for the bookings it has disrupted, sparking sharp criticism not only from impacted travel advisors, but also advocacy groups like the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) and The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA).
The issue was briefly raised at last week’s House Transport hearing, where airlines were grilled by MPs over the travel chaos that ensued during the holidays.
Bloc Québécois MP Julie Vignola told the committee how she’s heard that Sunwing isn’t paying commission to travel advisors – “even though they did their job correctly.”
READ MORE: “Enough is enough”: Agents blast Sunwing for suspending SK flights, recalling commissions
“Is this a policy that is common in your company? For you to not pay the companies and agencies that are selling your trips?” Vignola asked.
Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations for Sunwing, responded, saying that it’s a “common practice” within the industry to only pay commission on completed trips.
Dawson, appearing virtually, said he sympathized with the trade, noting that Sunwing has incentives to reward agents and is looking at ways to make them whole so agents will work with the tour operator again.
In a statement on Jan. 5, Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing Travel Group, alongside Len Corrado, jointly apologized for “letting our customers down” over Christmas, stating that Sunwing’s capacity would be reduced to execute higher standards of service.
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