Sunwing Airlines, one of North America’s largest vertically integrated travel companies, is temporarily suspending all southbound flights from March 17 until April 9 to focus its resources on returning customers home from vacation destinations, as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closure policies.
Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector, subsequently noted Sunwing Airlines announced it is suspending operations after March 23, which is when the repatriation flights are expected to be complete. As a result, all Sunwing pilots, approximately 470, will be laid off on April 8.
“This unprecedented situation has had a drastic impact on our business during a short space of time. While we have communicated a temporary suspension of our southbound flights up until April 10, at this time we cannot confirm when commercial southern flight operations will resume,” said Mark Williams, president of Sunwing, on March 16. “That is why Sunwing was forced to communicate layoffs to our flight and cabin crew members yesterday evening.”
Unifor has called on the federal and provincial governments to immediately implement a series of measures to protect workers across all industries. “We will not accept any situation where workers are left to fend for themselves, not at Sunwing, not anywhere,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president. “That’s why we’ve called on all levels of government to confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action to protect the livelihoods of workers affected by this crisis.”
Williams explained Sunwing fully intends to recall its flight and cabin crew members once the airline has confirmation of a return-to-service date for its southbound flights. “Our pilots and flight attendants play a crucial role in our operations and this was not a decision that we took lightly… These are incredibly difficult decisions to make. But the circumstances we face are dire and we must take action to ensure the long-term viability of our business,” he said.
Williams continued to explain Sunwing is actively seeking government support because of the severe impact COVID-19 has had on the airline. “As an organization, we have never sought government support previously,” he said, “but these are exceptional circumstances. Our customers need us and we’re doing everything we can to support them.”
The first Sunwing rescue flights departed on March 15, repatriating over 500 Canadians from countries that had announced border closures, with the airline expecting to bring home over 11,000 customers by the end of that day.