Air Canada strike hits thousands
QUINTON CHAN in Vancouver
Thousands of passengers, including Hong Kong students returning to school and college in Canada, face disruption from a second transpacific airline strike.
Flights to Vancouver were cancelled as Air Canada pilots went on strike yesterday, adding to problems caused by industrial action by Northwest Airlines flight crew.
Some travel agents predict passengers may be stuck in Hong Kong until next week, thanks to a combination of the strike action and heavy end-of-holiday bookings.
It is understood that most flights to Canada, including services on Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Lines and Korean Air, are fully booked and seats will not be available until next week.
'Flights are cancelled until we are able to negotiate a settlement and we can get the pilots back to work,' said Priscille LeBlanc, Air Canada's director of corporate communications.
The airline had made arrangements with 15 other carriers to accept its passengers in the event of a strike, she said. However, many airlines were already fully booked.
Air Canada has four round-trip flights between Hong Kong and Vancouver each week, which can carry more than 2,000 passengers. Vancouver-based travel agent Wong Kam-wai said getting from Hong Kong to Canada would be difficult although some seats were still available on the return leg.
Some 1,000 passengers booked to fly to Vancouver in the next week may be stranded, he warned.
Pilots at Chicago-based United Airlines, an Air Canada affiliate, were reportedly refusing to carry strike-bound passengers.
Air Canada advised passengers to be at Chek Lap Kok early and said travel agents and airline officers would help travellers find an airline to honour the original ticket.
Passengers who failed to get another flight would receive a full refund. Air Canada representatives in Hong Kong did not return calls regarding arrangements for passengers.
The strike began after talks between Air Canada and its 2,100 pilots broke down.
Yesterday's flights to and from Hong Kong were unaffected as they took off before the noon deadline.
'Our management has failed to address our concerns and we are angered,' said Jean-Marc Belanger, chairman of the Air Canada Pilots Association.
He said the association had reduced its original wage demands from a 20 per cent rise over two years to a 12 per cent rise.
Northwest passengers scheduled to depart yesterday had their flights rerouted.