15 MAR 2019: Canadian travellers and airlines are in for a turbulent ride after Canada and the US announced a ban on all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft from Canadian airspace due to safety concerns. The latest suspensions come as thousands of Canadians are away on March break, stoking fears of stranded passengers and rebooking delays.

“For a week or two, it will be bedlam and chaos,” said Marvin Ryder, an assistant professor of marketing at McMaster University.

More than 40 countries have now grounded or banned the Max 8 from their airspace over safety concerns and possible parallels to an Oct. 29 incident which saw the same type of aircraft plunge into the Java Sea, killing 189 people.

Sunwing issued a statement that it was revising its schedule to accommodate the temporary removal of its MAX aircraft from service and appreciated the patience of retail partners and customers while it worked to communicate the updates.  Sunwing said it will not be cancelling any flights and was endeavoring to minimize the impact of the schedule changes.
Air Canada was overwhelmed with calls as travellers scrambled to rebook flights after Ottawa joined dozens of countries in grounding the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft yesterday.

Calls to the customer service line Wednesday and today prompted a recording that said call volume has temporarily exceeded the company's capacity to answer or even place callers on hold.

The message cites “unforeseen circumstances,” and directed callers to Air Canada's website.

Adeel Khamisa said his family's United Airlines flight from Montreal to Los Angeles on an Air Canada-operated Max 8 plane was full last Saturday.

“All those people need to get home,” said the Ottawa resident. “I'm getting passed around back and forth between two airlines, each saying it's the other's responsibility.”

Jason Scarrotts, a father of two young children, said he was on the phone with Air Canada for 90 minutes before speaking with an agent to rebook their Max 8 flight from Vancouver to Palm Springs, only to be disconnected. “Please help,” he tweeted.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. confirmed Wednesday they were in the process of grounding their Max 8s.

Air Canada said it will grant affected customers on its roughly 75 daily Max 8 flights a full fee waiver - though that may not cover higher fares for a rebooked flight - along with “the ability to obtain a full refund.”

“We are working to rebook impacted customers as soon as possible but given the magnitude of our 737 Max operations, which on average carry 9,000 to 12,000 customers per day, customers can expect delays in rebooking and in reaching Air Canada call centres and we appreciate our customers' patience,” the company said in a statement.

WestJet said the grounding order will affect about 1,400 customers daily. The Calgary-based company said it will “attempt to rebook guests for no additional charge,” but is sticking to a policy that could see passengers pay the difference in fares or fees for the changed ticket.

Air Canada has 24 Max 8s and WestJet has 13 - six percent and seven percent of their fleets of 400 and 175 aircraft, respectively.

The carriers use the commuter planes daily to ferry passengers on routes that include Vancouver-Calgary and Vancouver-Montreal as well as March break favourites such as Toronto-Puerto Vallarta and Vancouver-Honolulu.

Sun destinations for WestJet's Max 8s - which make about 35 flights each day - include the Florida hot spots of Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Ryder estimates the ban could cost the two airlines $100 million collectively in the first 10 days.

“They don't have another 24 jets just sitting parked somewhere that they can bring into service to cover it...They'll have to cancel flights,” he said.

Ryder explained the airlines may try to cut the number of flights on some routes and replace the Max 8 jetliners with larger planes.

Air Canada plans to swap in other aircraft on flights to Hawaii, Martinique and Guadeloupe, reroute some passengers through different airlines and cancel other flights, including those from Halifax and St. John's to London, all of which comes at a cost.

Travellers are advised to check their flight status at www.aircanada.com and www.westjet.com.

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