Passengers up in the air after Boeing 737 Max 8s grounded

Airline passengers whose flights were cancelled following Canada’s decision to ground Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are scrambling to find alternative flights and other ways to get to their destinations.

That may involve delays and added costs, says Halifax travel consultant Bob Sime.

“I think what will happen is, the worst-case scenario, is that you may get a different time [of the day] or it could be the next day.”

But, with March break looming, that’s not much comfort for some people who’ve paid for vacation packages or cruises and can’t get a flight to their destinations.

Air Canada operates 24 Boeing 737 Max 8s, while WestJet has 13 and Sunwing, 4. Air Transat and Porter do not use the aircraft.

Air Canada says it is in the process of dealing with the thousands of customers affected by the grounding.

“Air Canada’s cancellation and rebooking policies are in place with full fee waiver for affected customers,” the airline said in a statement posted to its website.

It cautioned that with up to 12,000 of its customers travelling on the aircraft every day, delays in reaching Air Canada call centres to rebook flights should be expected.

Halifax travel consultant Bob Simes says sorting out flight cancellations caused by the grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft is going to be complex, especially for people with upcoming vacation packages. (CBC)

WestJet wasn’t expecting the same impact. “We have 162 aircraft or more than 92 per cent of our overall fleet that remain in service.”

Compensation for missed holidays could be a thorny issue, Sime said.

“That brings a lot of questions that are very difficult to answer because if you are on one of these holidays, including a hotel … these have been prepaid by the tour company [and are] 100 per cent non-refundable for the tour company.”

Travel insurance is unlikely to cover the situation, he said.

“I have never seen, in any of the policies I have read over the years, aircraft malfunctions  … I’ve never seen those as being covered.” 

Fewer planes may drive up ticket costs

But there is hope that the insurance companies, out of goodwill, could find ways to assist, Sime said.

“But if I was doing my planning, I’d be looking at how else I could get there — still flying but not on a 737 Max 8,” he advised.

No one from the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, an industry organization, was available to comment on Wednesday.

A reduction in the number of planes in an airline’s inventory is also likely to drive up the cost of plane tickets.

“The airlines all have these pricing models that are totally automated by the computer and the moment they start removing this inventory, let’s say from Halifax to Toronto, and now backing it up into their other flights, the capacity is going to be occupied. And that higher occupation of the capacity is going to drive up the price,” Sime said.


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