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

Air Canada and WestJet canceled more than 4,200 flights in January. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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

According to data from Cirium, an airline data company, Air Canada canceled 2,755 flights during the month of January, representing 12 percent of the total number of scheduled flights. WestJet canceled 1,467 flights during the same period, accounting for 13 percent of its scheduled flights.

Data from Cirium shows that in January 2020, when each airline was operating nearly double the number of flights, Air Canada canceled six percent of its scheduled flights (2,651 total), while WestJet canceled three percent (534 total) of its scheduled flights.

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

WestJet cut 20 percent of its scheduled flights in February as it continues to struggle with staff shortages and “the long-term impact of government barriers,” the company said. The Calgary-based airline said in January it had made the “difficult decision” to shorten its schedule “in response to the Omicron variant affecting staffing levels and the long-term impact of government barriers on our business.”

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

“Since the pandemic began, we have adjusted our schedule in response to government restrictions, the trajectory of COVID and market conditions, among other things,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

“At this time, we have no other update on schedule changes other than the changes we made earlier.”

Travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the Omicron variant remain in place in many regions around the world, including Canada. In December, the federal government issued an advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel abroad, regardless of vaccination status. That advice still stands. Currently, travelers coming to Canada are also required to provide a negative PCR test prior to arrival. Passengers arriving from anywhere outside the US must also be tested on arrival, whether or not they have been vaccinated, and then be quarantined 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 easing of travel restrictions “as COVID-19 continues to move from the pandemic to the endemic stage.”

IATA said governments should remove all travel barriers — including mandatory quarantine and testing rules — for fully vaccinated travelers, and allow unvaccinated travelers to bypass the quarantine if they give 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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