Air Canada, WestJet cancel more than 4,200 flights in January

A view of Air Canada planes at Calgary International Airport.
On Monday, September 10th, 2018, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Air Canada and WestJet cancelled more than 4,200 flights in the month of January. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Air Canada and WestJet cancelled more than 4,200 flights in the month of January, as the airlines continued to face headwinds due in part to travel restrictions and the Omicron variant.

According to data provided by Cirium, an aviation data company, Air Canada cancelled 2,755 flights in the month of January, representing 12 per cent of its total scheduled flights. WestJet cancelled 1,467 flights over the same period, representing 13 per cent of its scheduled flights.

Data provided by Cirium show that in January of 2020 when each airline was operating nearly double the flights overall, Air Canada cancelled six per cent of its scheduled flights (2,651 in total) while WestJet scrapped three per cent (534 total) of its scheduled flights.

Airlines often adjust schedules and consolidate flights based on demand. But the emergence of the Omicron variant, subsequent staff shortages and government travel restrictions has complicated airline schedules.

WestJet slashed 20 per cent of its scheduled February flights as it continues to grapple with a shortage of staff and what the company says is "the prolonged impact of government barriers." The Calgary-based airline said in January that it made the "difficult decision" to reduce its schedule "in response to the Omicron variant affecting staffing levels and the prolonged impact of government barriers on our business."

While Air Canada did not announce any major schedule reductions for the month of February, the airline previously said it will suspend some flights to sun destinations from Jan. 24 until April 30 due to the pandemic. Suspended destinations include Antigua, Aruba, Samaná, Curaçao, Exuma, Grenada, Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, Bermuda, Grand Cayman, Havana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

"Since the pandemic began, we have been adjusting our schedule in response to, among other things, government restrictions, the trajectory of COVID and market conditions," Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

"At this time, we have no update on schedule changes other than those we previously enacted."

Travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the Omicron variant remain in place in many regions around the world, including in Canada. In December, the federal government issued an advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country, regardless of vaccination status. That advisory remains in place. Currently travellers coming to Canada must also provide a pre-arrival negative PCR test. Passengers coming from anywhere outside of the U.S. also have to be tested upon arrival, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, and then quarantine until they receive a negative test result.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat, has urged governments to accelerate the relaxation of travel restrictions "as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage."

IATA said governments should remove all travel barriers – including mandatory quarantine and testing rules – for fully vaccinated travellers, as well as allow unvaccinated travellers to bypass quarantine if they provide a negative pre-departure antigen test result.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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