This article was updated on Tuesday, January 17 at 3:01 p.m. EST.
Turbulence continues to rock Sunwing as the tour operator makes more last-minute changes to its winter schedule, suspending select routes in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario.
As reported by CBC News, select routes to warmer climates have been scrapped in New Brunswick – specifically, weekly Friday flights from Moncton to Varadero, Cuba, as well as weekly Tuesday flights from Fredericton to Cayo Coco, Cuba.
Speaking with CBC, Kate O'Rourke, spokesperson for the Fredericton International Airport (YFC), called the news "disappointing" and "frustrating for the people booked on that flight" but noted that Sunwing is still operating some routes at the airport.
Fredericton’s airport noted the cancellations on its Facebook page on Jan. 12.
“We understand that some customers are receiving notices of changes to their Sunwing flights from New Brunswick,” wrote YFC. “We have been advised that flights to Cancun, Punta Cana, and Cayo Santa Maria are operating as scheduled, however, Sunwing Vacations is cancelling flights from YFC to Cayo Coco due to operational constraints.”
Reductions on select routes have also been made in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reports indicate, impacting routes to Orlando, Cayo Largo del Sur and Varadero.
Customers whose travel plans have been impacted by these cancellations are provided the option to change their departure gateway or destination, or cancel their vacations for a full refund to their original form of payment, if preferred, Sunwing said in a statement to PAX on Jan. 17.
Refunds will be processed within 30 days.
"At this time, we are not planning further reductions to our winter program from Atlantic Canada airports. However, customers will be advised should there be any changes to their upcoming travel plans. We thank our customers and airport partners in Atlantic Canada for their ongoing support and understanding at this time," Sunwing stated.
Sudbury & North Bay
Similar actions are happening in North Ontario as Sunwing is also pulls flights out of Sudbury and North Bay starting Feb. 1.
According to reports, the tour operator will discontinue flights from Sudbury to the Dominican Republic and from North Bay to Cuba, CTV News reported last week.
“Due to extenuating circumstances, we regret to inform our customers in Sudbury and North Bay that we are cancelling our winter program from both airports, effective Feb. 1. This impacts weekly flights from Sudbury to Punta Cana starting on Feb. 1 and from North Bay to Varadero starting on Feb. 2," Sunwing told CTV News in a statement.
"We sincerely apologize to our valued customers and airport partners in Sudbury and North Bay for the inconvenience and disruption. The difficult decision to cancel winter flights beginning in February was deemed necessary due to operational and business constraints that would prevent us from delivering the standards of service our customers expect when travelling with Sunwing."
The update comes one month after Sunwing resumed service in the two cities.
Customers impacted by the changes can transfer their packages to same-day departures out of Toronto and will receive a $100 CAD credit for future travel, the company said.
Customers can also choose to cancel their vacations for a full refund.
Giovanna Verrilli, Sudbury Airport’s CEO, told CTV that they are “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellations.
“More importantly we are more concerned about our passengers and their experience,” Verrilli said. “We trust that Sunwing will take care of each and every one of those passengers affected.”
“We’ve worked very hard over the last few months to rebuild passenger confidence or to work towards rebuilding passenger confidence in aviation and in particular, out of Sudbury airport and this takes us several steps back.”
As of Monday morning (Jan. 16), the cancellations were not posted to the “travel advisories” section of Sunwing’s website, which is where flight changes are typically announced.
"We are hopeful that customers will choose to travel with us from Toronto this winter season, while we work to re-establish a full program from Sudbury and North Bay for the 2023-2024 winter season," Sunwing said in a statement to PAX on Jan. 17.
"We thank our customers and airport partners for their ongoing support and understanding at this time, and look forward to returning customers to destination through alternate gateways this winter and by rebuilding a fulsome program for next winter season.”
The changes mirror a similar move Sunwing took in December when it suspended all flights in Saskatchewan up until (and including) Feb. 3, 2023.
The decision resulted in a wave of cancellations as impacted customers were offered full refunds, but it is travel agents who are now paying the price because Sunwing isn’t protecting commissions for the bookings it disrupted.
As PAX reported earlier this month, travel advisors in Saskatchewan are grappling with disappointed clients, mounting paperwork and thousands of dollars in recalled income during one of the busiest months of the year for travel.
A similar outcome is expected in the regions where Sunwing has recently cancelled flights.
Meanwhile, trade advocacy groups are blasting Sunwing’s approach.
Last week, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) spoke out against Sunwing’s handling of last-minute cancellations in Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
“When a decision to cancel a travel program is made, travel agent commission should be part of the decision-making process, and commission must be protected,” the association said in a release on Jan. 12.
In a public statement issued Jan. 5, Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing Travel Group and Len Corrado, president of Sunwing Airlines, jointly apologized for “letting our customers down” this past holiday season after a winter storm crippled its operations.
That apology, however, did not mention Canadian travel advisors who, too, were impacted by the shutdown as they worked through the holidays to find solutions for their clients.
The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), meanwhile, has taken a more direct tone with Sunwing.
The grassroots group, in a statement to PAX on Jan. 5, said “an apology is not enough.”
“To say ACITA is disappointed with these most recent cancellations is an understatement,” ACITA said. “Independent advisors have been working so hard to rebound after two long years of cancellations, and to now have to cancel and process refunds yet again, all while working without compensation, is unacceptable.”
Sunwing’s latest cancellations in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario come as no surprise.
In their apology earlier this month, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Corrado noted that Sunwing would reduce some capacity in January “to ensure that we can execute to the highest standards with the least disruption to customers as we move through the winter season.”
Sunwing executives told MPs on the House of Commons standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities last Thursday (Jan. 12) that the airline cancelled 67 flights between December 15 and 31 – party due to staff shortages.
Sunwing also struggled after its request to hire 63 pilots as temporary foreign workers was denied, Mr. Corrado told MPs.
Ottawa’s probe, which is ongoing, comes after hundreds of air passengers were stranded over the holidays after airlines cancelled or delayed flights mostly due to a snowstorm that hit parts of Canada around Christmas.