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Along with job cuts, Air Canada plans to ditch flights from Ottawa to Calgary and Vancouver

Air Canada is contacting affected customers to offer them options such as refunds or alternative travel arrangements, the company said. 
2020-03-11 Ottawa International Airport YOW MV1
The Ottawa International Airport (YOW), March 11, 2020. Mike Vlasveld/ CityNews

 Air Canada says it will cut 1,700 jobs as it scales down operations in response to a new wave of lockdown restrictions.

As part of a 25 per cent reduction in service for the first quarter of 2021, affecting another 200 employees at Air Canada's Express carriers, the company said Wednesday, that it will be cutting flights from Ottawa to Calgary and Vancouver, starting January 23.

"We regret the impact these difficult decisions will have on our employees who have worked very hard during the pandemic looking after our customers, as well as on the affected communities," said Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada's executive vice president and chief commercial officer, in a statement.

Guillemette said increased travel restrictions by federal and provincial governments have had an immediate impact on the company's bookings.

Unifor, the union which represents customer sales and service agents and customer relations representatives at Air Canada, said the cuts could have been lessened if Ottawa had developed a plan to support the aviation industry.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias said support for airline workers needs to be an immediate priority for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra who was named to the job this week in a cabinet shuffle that saw Marc Garneau move to foreign affairs. 

"Today's announcement leaves airline workers with continued disappointment in the federal government's lack of action to support the industry," Dias said in a statement.

Ottawa's airport says Air Canada cutting its direct flights to Vancouver and Calgary represent the loss of seven and six flights per week, respectively, at a time when passenger volumes are already down by about 90 per cent from 2019 levels.

"I would say the first word that comes to mind is depressing," said Krista Kealey, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Ottawa International Airport Authority, describing the sight of a mostly-empty passenger terminal.

"Prior to the newest stay-at-home orders, I was going in every couple of weeks and you take a walk around and there's staff there, but there are certainly not a lot of passengers," said Kealey.

With the reduction, Air Canada's capacity in the first quarter of 2021 will be about 20 per cent of its capacity during the first quarter of 2019, the company says.

Air Canada notified airports in Atlantic Canada this week that it would cut additional routes in the region, suspending all flights in Gander, N.L., Goose Bay, N.L., and Fredericton, N.B., until further notice as of Jan. 23.

Air Canada is contacting affected customers to offer them options such as refunds or alternative travel arrangements, the company said. 

The cuts come just days after Air Canada's latest round of service reductions in Atlantic Canada went into effect on Jan. 11.

Monette Pasher, the executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, said in a statement that the repercussions of the service cuts would be felt for years to come in communities in Atlantic Canada.

"We cannot just flip a switch to turn air service back on when we get to the other side of this pandemic," Pasher said. "We are going to have a long hard road ahead of us to rebuild air access for our region."

-- With files from Mike Vlasveld and Jason White, CityNews

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