Sunwing steps up with free seats to get Canadians home

A Sunwing Boeing 737-800 departs Vancouver International Airport February 19, 2020 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Canadian charter carrier Sunwing, which will soon suspend operations and lay off its staff, is stepping up to help stranded Canadians get home by offering free seats on repatriation flights, including non-Sunwing passengers.

“We understand a lot of Canadians are still stranded outside the country and struggling to get home,” said Stephen Hunter, CEO of Sunwing Travel Group. “That’s why we want to open up any extra capacity we have. It’s the Canadian thing to do.”

The airline announced Monday it would stop flying passengers out of the country to its southern resort destinations and instead focus on getting its customers home. Thursday’s announcement is an expansion of that policy.

Sunwing expects to have all of its customers home by March 23. Until then, it is offering all Canadians the chance at a ride home if they can get to an airport Sunwing serves.

“If a northbound flight is operating from their destination,” said the airline, “they should make their way to the departure airport and present themselves to the Sunwing Airlines check in counter. If space remains prior to departure at the closure of check in, any available seats will be offered to Canadians or Canadian permanent residents free of charge.”

It’s asking stranded Canadians to check its website to see where flights are operating. For example, the schedule shows flights from Cancun to Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Moncton, Montreal, and Vancouver today.

Sunwing expects to operate 60 flights Thursday to ferry another 11,000 people home. That will bring the total to 33,000 since the beginning of the week.

In all, Sunwing said it will spend $26 million to operate 400 flights by the time its repatriation flights end.

Most airlines in Canada have announced drastically reduced service as a result of the COVID pandemic. Air Canada is abandoning all but a handful of international services and Westjet is withdrawing all international service as of Sunday.

Both Sunwing and Transat – which specialize in carrying Canadians to holiday destinations – have announced they would shut down while government warnings not to travel remain in place to fight the pandemic.