Alghabra Denies Asking Airlines to Cancel Flights to Reduce Airport Congestion as Unions Fight Back Against Unpaid Time on the Tarmac

Plane at airportThe snowball effect of airport staffing shortages isn’t just growing airport chaos, long lineups and even some pax missing flights.

A coalition of Toronto business and travel industry organizations revealed Thursday, 12MAY that there were delays of over 90 minutes for more than 7000 pax to debark their planes at YYZ last week.

As they called for Ottawa to step in to ensure proper staffing for outbound security screeners and inbound border officials, the group pointed out, “Almost 50% of all international arriving passengers, or 100,000 people, were delayed last week, a 20% increase in the past two weeks.”

Unions for Canadian pilots and flight attendants say their members have had enough of “working for free” as delays inside airports lead to longer, uncompensated hours.

CUPE, which represents about 15,000 flight attendants at nine airlines, including Air Canada, Rouge, Air Transat, Sunwing, WestJet, Flair Air, Swoop, and others, says its members are going uncompensated for up to three hours at YYZ as pax are prevented from debarking planes due to congestion in the airport.

Flight attendants are paid for time in flight and normally no longer than 15 minutes after the plane’s arrival at the gate.

Some Pilots are in the Same Boat… er, Plane

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Unifor, which represents Sunwing pilots, is calling out the operator for “shortchanging” pilots who it requires to remain on board until all pax have been cleared from the aircraft.

Like flight attendants, that’s adding up to hours of uncompensated time waiting on the tarmac.

Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President, told an aircrew web site that, “If pilots are onboard, they’re working and they deserve to be paid.”

According to the report, the low-cost airline has allegedly told its pilots it is not prepared to make changes to compensation.

More than the Money

While demanding pay for its members’ time on the ground as well as in-flight, CUPE says flight attendants also have concerns beyond their uncompensated time.

Wesley Lesosky, president of CUPE’s airline division, told Reuters that the delays are creating safety issues. One is that it’s reducing rest times. Another is the onboard atmosphere - literally - heating up.

“As we go into the summer, our concern is cabin temperature and just people becoming unruly.”

Unifor's Doherty says that's already a problem. “Weary passengers have a right to be frustrated, but it has resulted in irate passengers arguing and yelling at flight attendants and physical assaults, which puts everyone at risk.”

More Pressure on Airlines

The Reuters report points out there are no contract talks underway in Canada, but that in the U.S. contract talks with airlines including American Airlines include paying flight attendants during boarding time. Delta Air Lines has already said it will start doing so in JUN.

Canada’s air industry, which has lagged behind the U.S. in recovery timelines, may now be faced with the possibility of unanticipated cost increases at a time when they can least afford them.

Omar Alghabra Minister of Transport
Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport

Pressure from Ottawa, Too?

Meanwhile, Omar Alghabra, Canada’s Transport Minister, is denying claims that the federal government asked airlines to reduce their schedules and cancel flights to reduce congestion in Canada's major airports.

In a statement to CTV News on 17MAY, Alghabra’s office acknowledged that the current situation at Canada’s airports is “frustrating” and that the federal government is looking into ways to resolve the issues, but measures do not include a “direct callout” to airlines to trim their services.

“We can confirm that our Government has never asked, and will not be asking, airlines to cut back on their flight schedules,” the statement reads.

Alghabra’s response follows a tweet by Duncan Dee, a former COO at Air Canada, where he says he was informed that airlines had been asked to reduce their schedules to “assist with the fed gov-created mess at the airport.”

WestJet told CTV News on 17MAY that it remains “extremely concerned” with the state of services provided by government agencies at air borders and security screening points, and added that it would “reject any request to reduce flights based on lack of government resourcing.”


Lynn Elmhirst


With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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