Jazz hits sour notes in Yukon

Air Canada Jazz is not very popular with Yukoners this week. That’s because flight delays and cancellations caused inconvenience, hefty hotel…

Air Canada Jazz is not very popular with Yukoners this week.

That’s because flight delays and cancellations caused inconvenience, hefty hotel bills and many questions about the national carrier’s service to the territory.

For its part, Air Canada says last week’s flight cancellations on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were due to extreme weather.

The airline can’t fly in minus 40 Celsius or colder.

Those temperatures have occurred an average of 5.2 days a year since the 1940s, and a total 13 days since 2000, according to Environment Canada.

The delays were regrettable, but Air Canada is not responsible for acts of God, such as the weather, said an airline spokeswoman.

Some passengers aren’t buying what Air Canada is selling.

They’re upset because while Air Canada was grounded, Air North continued to fly.

God’s not grounding planes, the airline is simply flying the wrong planes, said passenger Peter Coates.

And Air Canada passengers shouldn’t have to pay hotel bills because the airline chose to fly Bombardier’s CRJ on its northern routes, he said.

The CRJ cannot be flown at temperatures of minus 40, or colder.

And Coates was further angered when Air Canada staff threatened to label him a flight risk after he approached fellow passengers at the airport about launching a class-action lawsuit against the airline.

Coates is countering that threat by continuing his lawsuit efforts.

Now, the dispute’s become political.

Yesterday, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell said he doesn’t feel minus 40 is rare and he doesn’t like the way Yukoners are being treated by Air Canada.

“They literally abandoned a 16-year-old girl returning home from a student exchange abroad,” said Mitchell, referring to one passenger stranded in Vancouver last week.

“These are not the actions of a responsible corporate citizen and they need to make improvements to the level of service that is provided to Yukon.”

He’d like to see Dennis Fentie’s Yukon Party government use its frequent flyer status to lean on Air Canada to get the airline to make some changes, he said.

“Every year the government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel,” he said.

“The only thing that would be unusual would be if we had a winter without minus-40-degree temperatures.

“Until Air Canada commits to improving its quality of service, the Yukon government should fly the carrier that can deliver and, at the moment, that is Air North.”

Air Canada Jazz simply isn’t allowed to fly its CRJ 100 and 200 series planes in minus 40 weather, said company spokeswoman Debra Williams.

The manufacturer’s weather rating doesn’t go that high, so CRJs remain grounded in temperatures of minus 40 and below for safety reasons.

Bombardier Aerospace, the planes’ manufacturer, backed Williams’ claims.

On Tuesday, Bombardier spokesman Mark Duchesne said Transport authorities have deemed the aircraft’s cold-weather flying abilities are limited.

“The aircraft is certified to minus 40 C.”

He has to look into the technical reasons for that, he added.

As for the lawsuit, Williams said she’s never heard of it.

Air Canada also said it wasn’t familiar with the “flight risk” threat, but would look into it. It did not respond to that question by press time.

The whole affair was just handled badly, said Coates on Tuesday.

He doesn’t like the fact that he had to pay his hotel bills and he doesn’t like being threatened with being labeled a risk.

“It’s quite a potent threat, in this day and age especially. That has consequences these days because everyone shares that information.”

He’s still determined for the moment, but his lawsuit bid isn’t going so well, he said Tuesday.

“The legal advice I’ve received so far is that we scarcely have a leg to stand on.

“I’m going to get information from a different lawyer.”

The other end of the line wasn’t much better, said Whitehorse resident Pat Burnham.

On Tuesday, Burnham was booked on an Air Canada flight from Whitehorse, but didn’t get out until Friday.

While Burnham’s generally happy with Air Canada’s service, he was disappointed with how last week’s cold-snap cancellations were handled in the Yukon’s capital, he said.

After Tuesday’s cancellation, the airline rebooked him for Wednesday. After Wednesday’s cancellation, he was on his own, he said.

“I was disappointed that, after the initial rebooking (on Tuesday), Air Canada reservations did not automatically contact and rebook passengers onto the next available flights, and that it was up to each passenger to monitor ongoing cancellations and then phone the reservation department themselves to rebook.

“Some passengers, who assumed they were rebooked, showed up at the airport and were informed they were wait-listed and might not get a flight out.

“I went through the wait-and-see, cancellation, rebook process for both Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday afternoon we were finally rescued by the larger Airbus 319.”

He understands the airline was busy with weather-related problems and stranded customers, but Air Canada may want to lower its number of flights and use the bigger Airbus permanently in winter, he said.

“Air Canada would keep a good customer base, and attract more business, including Canada Post mail and courier shipments.”

Some of last week’s stranded Air Canada customers must have boarded some of his company’s flights because his numbers got a bit of a boost, said Air North president Joe Sparling earlier this week.

Air North’s Boeing 737-200s don’t have cold weather restrictions, but extreme cold is tough on every air carrier, he said.

“We’d start seeing problems at  minus 50 C or so, but that has more to do with the fuel.

“The airplane itself doesn’t have a low temperature limitation.

“It’s tough on everybody operating equipment in the cold.”

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