For the last month, Air Canada has been operating numerous repatriation flights to bring home stranded Canadians. Operated in collaboration with the Government of Canada, the airline says that these flights are now drawing to an end. To date, approximately 6,600 Canadians have been repatriated from Morocco, Spain, Ecuador, Peru, Algeria, Argentina, and Colombia.
“Overnight, the COVID‑19 crisis struck the entire planet in unprecedented ways and thousands of our fellow Canadians found themselves stranded abroad as a result of the numerous restrictions quickly imposed by various governments. Heartfelt thanks must first be given to our crews, who agreed to be on the front lines to support these thousands of people eager to get home to be among their loved ones during these difficult times.” – Ferio Pugliese, Senior Vice President, Air Canada Express and Government Relations at Air Canada
The final numbers
In total, 21 special flights were arranged by Air Canada. All of them used widebody aircraft in close cooperation with Global Affairs Canada. While there aren’t any more flights scheduled, Air Canada says that it will remain available to operate additional flights should the federal government of Canada make the request.
The program to date has included flights from these faraway cities:
- Seven flights from Lima
- Four flights from Quito
- Three flights from Casablanca
- Four flights from Algiers
- One flight from Barcelona
- One flight from Bogotá
- One flight from Buenos Aires
Since March 15, the airline claims to have brought more than 300,000 passengers back to Canada from Asia, Europe, Caribbean/South America, and the United States. This included Canadians repatriated from India, South Africa, Croatia, Serbia, and the UAE through its London–Heathrow air link.
“Over the past few weeks, we have mounted one of the largest repatriation operations of Canadian travelers stranded abroad in the country’s history…Air Canada played a vital role in bringing thousands of our fellow Canadians home. I want to thank all those who worked day and night to make this major undertaking possible.” – François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Cargo is now the focus
Since March 1, Air Canada has carried nearly 250 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the country. To efficiently use its passenger jets for cargo, seats were removed from the cabin. The first flight full of freight on one of these converted Boeing 777-300ERs arrived on April 18. The aircraft flew from Shanghai via Narita, with more than 20 tonnes of face masks.
Outside of these specially converted aircraft, Air Canada has operated 106 all-cargo flights since March 22 between Asia, Europe, South America, and Canada. The airline plans to operate up to 20 all-cargo flights per week using a combination of the three newly converted Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s.
While Air Canada’s employees should be applauded for their hard work and courage in working under such extenuating circumstances, it seems quite standard to conduct the activities that it has been undertaking.
However, many travelers have been upset at the prices they have had to pay for these rescue flights – we’ve seen prices that are twice the price of a round-trip ticket for this one-way journey. Air Canada responded to pricing inquiries by telling the Toronto Star:
“These special flights are not regular Air Canada flights, but rather we provide a service together with the government, offering our aircraft and crews, and facilitate booking (which is primarily done by local embassies, which contact Canadians locally),”
The spokesperson added that Air Canada is not making money from the flights and is sending empty planes to pick up Canadians. Krystyna Dodds, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the government has worked out deals with airlines, ensuring flights are operated at cost.