photo: Izusek/iStock

Getting Back in the Air After the “Max 8” Grounding

By Bonnie Staring

Linda Grey was at Hong Kong International Airport, waiting for her flight to Calgary via Vancouver, when she learned that returning home might be more difficult than expected. “I couldn’t get a boarding pass for my connection to Calgary,” she recalls. “The airline didn’t explain why.”

Soon after, Grey did get an email from her AMA Travel counsellor: “My connecting flight was grounded, but she’d booked me on a flight that left just an hour later than the cancelled one.” Without the rebooking, Grey would’ve been stranded in Vancouver overnight. “That flight to Calgary ended up being totally full.”

Grey was hardly the only affected traveller. On March 13, 2019, federal transportation minister Marc Garneau grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft in Canada: They could not take off or land here, or fly over Canadian air space. Two Max planes had crashed during the previous six months, and concerns over flight-control features common to the aircraft could not be ignored. The immediate impact of the grounding was a cascade of cancelled flights during the busy spring break travel season. Months later, airline schedules are still being juggled.

“Once the news spread about the 737 Max, seats on other flights began to fill up,” says Terry Vander Linden of AMA Travel. With hundreds of thousands of itineraries to rearrange, many air-lines asked travellers to wait until 72 hours prior to their flight before contacting them. On the other hand, AMA Travel counsellors quickly sorted through nearly 4,500 trips booked by members, honed in on an initial batch of 338 affected flights and immediately contacted those travellers. “By the time many airlines had started to reach out to their clients, we were already busy rebooking,” Vander Linden adds.

Don’t get tripped up by a trip cancellation

In Canada, 41 Max aircraft remain grounded. They comprise only 6.7 percent of the combined Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing fleets, but even that small number means 10,000 to 13,000 fewer seats each day.

Since there’s no clear timeline for the planes to return to the sky, some travellers are booked on 737 Max aircraft for future departures. “Our work in reaching out to members is in tandem with what the airlines are doing as they change their aircraft and, in some cases, schedules,” he says.

Though the planes’ grounding is an extreme example, changes to travel plans do happen. AMA Travel counsellors expect the unexpected on your behalf; they leverage their insider knowledge and relationships with suppliers to minimize the impact of any alterations to your itinerary. It’s all part of making certain you’re well taken care of before, during and after your trip.

As for Grey, she won’t hesitate to book with AMA Travel again. “My travel counsellor solved my flight problem before I even knew it existed,” she says. “I had a one-hour delay with no additional costs. And no stress!”

The 411 on new protections for Canadian air passengers

Involuntary bumping: Passengers denied boarding due to overbooking are eligible for up to $2,400, plus a flight rebooking or refund.

Baggage issues: For lost, damaged or delayed luggage, you may file a claim for expenses up to $2,100. Baggage fees may also be refunded.

Clear communication: Airlines must use plain language to communicate about delays, cancellations, lost bags—and your rights as an air passenger.

More to come: Delay and cancellation compensation, seating minor children near their parents at no extra charge and more entitlements come into effect on Dec. 15, 2019.

Save time, get help planning and enjoy a worry-free vacation with AMA Travel