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Airlines’ ‘bait-and-switch’ strategy lures customers to flights that never take off

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OTTAWA – Rob Przybylski and Courtney Ross were slated to wrap up the month on a Costa Rican beach, sipping sugarcane cocktails with friends and family as they celebrated their wedding.

Instead, the Oshawa, Ont., duo say they and their 84 guests are out more than $216,000 after their Sunwing Airlines vacation package was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They have basically told us that refunds are not an option,” said Przybylski, 35.

Like most Canadian airlines, Sunwing does not reimburse passengers for flights cancelled by the airline, instead offering travel vouchers valid for two years.

The couple’s original booking in April had been called off by the carrier as the virus shut down global air travel. Their destination, a Planet Hollywood resort on the Pacific Ocean, offered a refund, but Sunwing did not, he said. So they rebooked the nuptial getaway for Nov. 27.

Sunwing cancelled the second flight last month, he said.

“We have 80 people that are out money, and a lot of them aren’t working now,” including his fiancee for much of this year, Przybylski said.

“My mom is the perfect example. She hasn’t travelled in 30 years. What is she going to do with a credit?”

Despite minuscule travel demand, Canadian airlines continue to schedule tens of thousands of flights per month, only to cancel the vast majority of them several weeks before takeoff.

The approach can leave passengers with a drastically changed itinerary or no flight at all, giving them little choice but to accept vouchers they may never use.

Air Canada cut more than 27,000 flights, or 70 per cent, from its November schedule between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, according to figures from aviation data firm Cirium. It cut another 2,000 by the end of October.

WestJet Airlines, which recently began to offer refunds for cancelled flights, in contrast to its competitors, slashed its November schedule by about 12,400 flights, or 68 per cent, in one week last month. Air Transat scrapped 63 per cent of its flights for November in the same week, leaving it with 123 – down to 100 as of last week.

Comparable schedule cuts occurred in October and September.

“It’s called bait and switch,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and head of its Global Aviation Leadership program.

The strategy is a response to a shift in customer behaviour, an attempt to woo wary travellers with ample flight options before drastically undersold seats prompt a scheduling cull.

“The industry cross their fingers and hope people buy, that they all of a sudden get this insane urge to fly,” Gradek said, calling the practice “deceptive.”

“’Cynical’ is probably too light of a word,” he said. “It borders on the edge of misleading advertising, that you’re promoting and offering for sale stuff that you know there’s a high probability will not be what you’re actually offering to the customer.”

Carriers deny there is anything untoward about recent schedule gutting.

“Airline schedules have always been subject to change,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email, noting the company has had to cut capacity by more than 90 per cent since March.

“In ordinary circumstances we would absorb temporary downturns in demand,” said WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell. But plummeting business has compelled “difficult decisions which include adjusting the schedule more frequently than normal.”

Bell said WestJet retains a robust schedule until the last minute to accommodate potential spikes in demand, such as the one after last month’s announcement that international travellers arriving at the Calgary airport can now forgo the mandated 14-day quarantine if they take a COVID-19 test.

Sunwing did not respond to questions Friday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the situation “complicated,” saying he sympathizes with customers.

“I encourage the airlines to repay passengers if they can. At the same time, some of those airlines are in deep difficulty in terms of their own ability to continue to function if they were having to provide refunds to all of the customers.”

Air Canada held on to more than $2.4 billion in advance ticket sales as of July 31, a hefty sum to return after its revenues dropped 95 per cent year over year in its second quarter.

Travellers have a right to reimbursement for a service that was paid for but never rendered, regardless of airlines’ financial woes, say opposition MPs and consumer advocates.

The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois have demanded refund requirements as a condition of any aid package to the industry.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said Friday the government is “behaving like a branch of Air Canada.”

“The minister of transport for seven months, since the beginning of the crisis, has essentially shrugged his shoulders any time the need for passenger reimbursement has come up,” NDP transport critic Niki Ashton said in an interview.

The Canadian Transportation Agency said in March that airlines can issue travel credit instead of refunds for cancelled trips in the “current context,” though the agency later clarified that the online statement was “not a binding decision” and that reimbursements depend in part on the contract between airline and passenger.

European and U.S. authorities have demanded airlines reimburse travellers, on top of the strings attached to aid that range from limiting dividends and executive bonuses to cutting carbon emissions and carving out ownership stakes for government.

Back in Oshawa, far from the sands of a Costa Rican resort, Rob Przybylski took stock.

“I know I’m not the only one in this situation. The biggest thing for me is to get my money back for my guests.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Source: – CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News

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How to tell if you're flying on a Boeing Max 737 – Boing Boing

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I’m a nervous flyer to begin with, so the news that Boeing is putting its crash-prone Max 737 jet back into service fills me with Lovecraftian dread.

I would rather ride a goddamn burro across the continental United States that get on one of those things. “Don’t worry, we updated the software.” There is no modern statement less reassuring.

But, how can you tell if you’ve been slated to fly on one?

As Jalopnik notes, Reuters reports that some airlines may stop using the “Max” name, so all you’ll know is that you’re flying on some sort of 737. So maybe you could just check your booking to see what sort of plane you’re on? But airlines’ methods of ID vary, and of course, sometimes at the last second they need to swap out jets for unanticipated reasons of maintenance or weather-related delays.

The upshot is that, as Jalopnik notes, you might have to simply figure it out by looking at the jet you’re about to board. This assessment would come rather late to be of any prophylactic use, mind you, unless you’re willing to skip the flight at the last second when you discover you’re about to step onto the creditScore_xxbin32_init.exe of airplanes.

Anyway, here’s how to recognize a Max 737 when you see one:

If your booking information doesn’t note what kind of 737 you’ll be flying, you may be able to spot the naming on the nose, tail or landing gear doors. Some airlines with a high number of 737 MAX aircraft orders, like Southwest, have no prominent markings at all.

At the airport, you can also check the winglets at the end of the wings. The 737 MAX will often have winglets that extend both up and down. Other versions of the 737 often have winglets that extend only upward. However, as some airlines — like United — have upgraded older planes to use the newer winglets, this isn’t always a surefire way to determine 737 type, either.

If all else fails, look at the engines. The 737 MAX uses CFM International LEAP-1B engines.

These are physically larger and pushed forward compared with the CFM International CFM56-7 engines of the older 737NG. The LEAP-1B engines will also have serrated edges at the rear of the engines.

(That CC-2.0-licensed photo of a Max 737, by Edward Russell, comes courtesy Wikimedia)

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Trudeau warns COVID-19 vaccine will come later to Canada than other countries – National Post

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Article content continued

“The issue of domestic vaccine manufacturing supply was identified as an issue after the H1N1 pandemic,” she said. “This issue in and of itself should not have come as a surprise to the Prime Minister or to the Health Minister or to the Procurement Minister when looking at a COVID vaccine rollout plan.”

Andrew Casey, president and CEO of Biotech Canada an industry association, said the prime minister is partially right, especially with the leading candidates.

“For two of the three vaccines that we now know about, the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines, those are mRNA vaccines, which there is no manufacturing for that in Canada,” he said. “In fact, it’s very limited around the world because it’s such a novel vaccine.”

The prime minister told the House that Canadians would be first in line to receive the vaccine

Casey said there is plenty of manufacturing capacity in Canada for making vaccines, but it uses different types of technology and can’t be easily switched to something different.

“One type of vaccine is like making wine and the other one is like making coke. Yes, they’re both put in bottles, and you can drink them with straws, but they’re very different processes.”

He said the manufacturers in Canada also have other orders they are processing for the flu and for childhood vaccinations and couldn’t just scrap that production for COVID even if the technology was interchangeable. Given Canada’s limitations, Casey said, buying access to as many doses as possible from other countries was a good move.

Casey said for large pharmaceutical companies it will take more than just money to build facilities in Canada and the government will have to think about investments in research, drug pricing and regulations structures and other issues.

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1 in 3 Toronto schools, nearly half of Brampton schools, have active COVID-19 cases – CityNews Toronto

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One in three Toronto public schools have an active case of COVID-19 – more than double the provincial average being touted by Ontario’s education minister as he promotes the government’s school safety strategy and the picture worsens at other boards in pandemic hot spots.

In Toronto’s public board, 35 per cent of schools, some 206 facilities, have at least one student or staff member who are reported as actively sick with COVID-19. Of Toronto’s Catholic schools, 40 per cent – or 79 institutions — have active cases. In Brampton, 48 per cent of all schools, both public and Catholic, have active cases.

Toronto and Peel are in lockdown so it’s no surprise they have more cases than the provincial average, but the premier has acknowledged it’s concerning.

“It is definitely setting off alarm bells,” Premier Doug Ford said at a press conference Tuesday.

The government has consistently said it is safer for students to be in school, and that the priority is to keep them open. It has never mentioned that cases in locked-down regions are significantly higher than the provincial average, which is 14.6 percent. Four schools are currently closed due to outbreaks.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce stood in the legislature Monday and insisted schools were safe.

“Parents want the facts. Here’s a fact that I think would instill a level of confidence: if they knew that 99.95% of students are COVID-19-free, that 99.92% of staff are COVID-19-free, that 99.7% of staff have never had COVID-19,” said Lecce. “Our leadership in public health and our school boards are working together to flatten this curve, to reduce the risk and to keep our kids safe, and that is a good thing we should celebrate in this province”

In Brampton, 61 public schools and 28 Catholic schools are reporting 122 and 89 cases, respectively. In the public board, 51 schools beyond Brampton are reporting a further 78 cases. Of those, 46 schools are in Mississauga, four schools are in Caledon, and one is in Bolton.

In the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board, 37 schools outside of Brampton are reporting a total of 61 cases. All but one of those schools is in Mississauga, with the lone other location in Caledon.

Brampton’s percentage of schools with active COVID-19 cases exceeds the proportion in its school boards in large.

The rate across Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board, which includes Mississauga, Caledon, Bolton and Orangeville, is 43 per cent, with a total 65 of its 151 elementary and secondary schools reporting active cases. In Peel’s public board, which serves Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon, the rate is 44 per cent, or 112 of the boards 257 schools.

CityNews has used the latest information posted on all the boards’ own websites to compile this data.

The premier said today that he was not downplaying cases at schools: “numbers don’t lie, they are out there.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said several times it is important to keep schools open for children’s mental health, and while students and staff are bringing COVID-19 into schools, it’s not being spread inside them. Provincial Minister of Health Christine Elliott echoed that today, adding she would re-evaluate the situation if needed.

“If the circumstances change and there’s a huge increase in the number of cases in schools, we might have to take another look at it,” Elliott said.

Ontario has started deploying rapid testing in long-term care homes and rural communities. Ford called it a game-changer and suggested if schools needed testing, it could happen. University of Toronto epidemiologist Colin Furness says he doesn’t believe schools need to close, but he says those inside should be tested regularly.

“We should be doing surveillance testing broadly in the province, we should have been doing that since April. By surveillance testing, I mean you don’t test people who show up at hospital looking sick, that’s diagnostic testing. Surveillance testing means you go and test people at risk,” he explained.

“We should be testing teachers because they are also in high-risk positions, and if want to know what’s going on with COVID in schools, test teachers,” he added, “But Ontario has been very resolutely committed to not doing surveillance testing. We are not trying to control transmission with testing, we are controlling with lockdowns. I think that’s unfortunate.”

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