Flair’s CEO calls seizure of 4 planes 'very wrongful and actually outrageous,' and predicts future of Flair at YKF
A total of four flights were cancelled at the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) Saturday after Flair Airlines had four passenger jets seized across Canada, including one locally.
Flair Airlines told CTV News Kitchener 1,894 passengers were impacted, of which 628 were at YKF. Twelve Flair flights were cancelled across the four airports on Saturday.
The seizures were due to a commercial dispute with the company Flair leases the planes from, after the discount airlines allegedly fell behind on lease payments.
The airline said those planes have now been replaced, but the update comes too late for many passengers, some whom said they are still stranded.
Bailie Richards was supposed to be on one of the cancelled Flair flights to YFK.
She said due to the cancellation, she is burning through her funds, stuck in Florida.
“Honestly, I don’t think all of the stress and the anxiety is worth the $80 we paid for our flight,” Richards said.
Richard's said she was promised food vouchers but didn't get them. She further claims she was put up in a hotel by Flair, but called it a health hazard.
“There were used needles everywhere. There were doors kicked in where they wouldn’t lock,” Richards said.
Her new flight was booked for Monday at 1 p.m., but that flight encountered a delay.
Richards said the experience has been terrifying, noting this is one of her first vacations without her parents.
Another customer, Kyle Kelly said he received an email from the company outlining his flight’s cancellation due to unanticipated maintenance delays within the airline’s control but required for safety.
Kelly said the airline tried to rebook him for Wednesday and offered him a hotel room in Kitchener. But his family instead is paying even more money now to still make their trip, buying brand new tickets to fly out of Hamilton.
Kelly said he’s now paid more than a thousand dollars extra for the changes to still make the trip.
‘PAYING FOR IT OUT OF POCKET’
Andrea Thompson was supposed to fly from Halifax to Toronto Saturday morning with her daughter.
“I managed to get myself on the flight from Halifax to Ottawa, ended up paying for it out of pocket myself,” said Thompson.
She said it ended up costing her $600 out of pocket for the train ride from Ottawa to Toronto, plus the new airfare costs.
“I’m going to finally arrive at my destination 11 hours after when I was supposed to be there,” said Thomspon.
According to Thompson, those who booked flights received an email saying the airline had unscheduled maintenance that was out of its control.
“I've now lost a whole entire day of our vacation, and we're only here until Tuesday morning. So, I’m really angry. I'm tired,” she said.
Carrie Kennedy was scheduled to fly out of Halifax on Sunday and said these cancellations and delays have left her feeling frustrated.
She and said the airline offered to rebook her a flight, but the earliest departure date she was offered was on Thursday - well outisde the 72 hours she had hoped for.
"Thursday is a lot longer than 72 hours - 72 hours would be Tuesday, and we probably would have accepted Tuesday but not Thursday,” said Kennedy.
PLANES HAVE BEEN REPLACED
Flair Airlines said it is now up to date on all lease payments and confirmed the seized planes have been replaced.
“This was obviously unexpected and unusual,” Stephen Jones, Flair Airlines CEO said.
The airline claims it is committed to helping each impacted passenger and acknowledges some passengers have fallen through the cracks.
“Some people were really badly impacted, and I’m very sorry about that, but I would say reach out directly,” Jones said.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Jones released more information about the seizure of the planes. He had strong words to say about the termination of leases and seizures of aircraft.
“A New York based hedge fund, and our current lessor, took what we believed to be a very wrongful and actually outrageous action,” Jones said.
Jones claimed Flair was not given any notice. He also believes it was planned because it was timed right at the peak of their busy season, as March Break was kicking off.
“We were sent termination notices in the middle of the night, and at the same time, again in the middle of the night, these people hired by the hedge funds came and inappropriately, I think, made it onto the tarmac and tried to control the aircraft,” Jones said. “We had pilots sitting in the aircraft and guys coming in pretending to be maintenance contractors.”
FLAIR’S COMMITMENT TO YKF
Jones said he spoke with the region over the weekend and again on Monday to reinforce Flair’s commitment to YKF.
Flair claims to be responsible for an estimated $61 million of direct economic output coming out of the region’s airport and millions more when you factor in visitor spending.
Flair said about 86 per cent of the purchased seats at YKF are thanks to Flair, and they’re looking forward to continuing to grow in the region.
But Jones said more work needs to be done when it comes to Flair’s cancellation record – outside of the weekend’s seizure.
“Overall, our completion factor – the number of flights we actually fly compared to those that are actually scheduled – needs to improve. We’re focused at the moment in particular in our crew resources. I know that there was a flight cancellation today, and I’m upset to hear about that, but that was due to a crew member being sick and not being able to be covered in time,” Jones said.
AIR PASSENGER RIGHTS ADVOCATE REACTS
An air passenger rights advocate says just because Flair is a low-cost airline, what happened this weekend isn’t acceptable.
“The obligation to deliver services and to meet service standards applies to all airlines,” said Gabor Lukacs who volunteers his time to help airline passengers protect their rights. “Just because they’re a low-cost doesn’t mean that they can cut corners.”
He said there needs to more transparency, not just for Flair Airlines, but for all airlines.
“The situation highlights perhaps Canada would need more scrutiny of airlines' financial stability on an ongoing basis,” he said.
According to Flair Airlines, a quarter of the impacted passengers rebooked a Flair flight within three days.
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