Airlines’ ‘bait-and-switch’ strategy lures customers to flights that never take off


OTTAWA — Despite minuscule travel demand, Canadian airlines continue to schedule tens of thousands of monthly flights, only to cancel the vast majority of them several weeks before departure in a strategy experts call “bait and switch.”

The approach, adopted by carriers following the collapse of the global travel industry due to COVID-19, leaves passengers stuck with vouchers they may never use or flights that take off days later than planned.

Figures from aviation data firm Cirium show that Air Canada cut more than 27,000 flights, or 70 per cent, from its November schedule between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9.

WestJet, which recently began to offer refunds for cancelled flights in contrast to its competitors, slashed its November schedule by about 12,400 flights, or 68 per cent, in one week last month.

Air Canada says flight schedules have always been subject to change, and that it continues to adjust them as it tries to rebuild from a capacity cut of more than 90 per cent.

John Gradek, an aviation expert and lecturer at McGill University, says the strategy is misleading and cynical, and marks a response to customers’ last-minute buying habits amid the shifting travel restrictions of the pandemic.