The Canadian low-cost airline Sunwing has been accused of ‘shortchanging’ pilots by refusing to pay them while they are still at work and onboard planes.
Sunwing has an internal safety policy that prevents passengers from boarding an aircraft without the pilots also being onboard and the same principle applies once the plane has arrived at its destination – pilots must not leave until all the passengers have first disembarked.
But Sunwing has allegedly told pilots that it’s not prepared to continue paying them when passengers are stuck on planes for hours at a time due to lengthy and frustrating delays on arrival at Canadian airports, including Toronto Pearson where the airline is based.
“If pilots are onboard, they’re working and they deserve to be paid,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President which represents Sunwing pilots.
Canada’s airports have come under huge pressure from a huge surge in travel demand coupled with staff shortages. The problems and delays have been even worse for arriving passengers from international destinations because of mandatory pandemic paperwork checks at the border.
Toronto Pearson airport estimates that the average processing time per passenger has increased from a maximum of 30 seconds to as much as 2.30 minutes. To alleviate dangerous overcrowding, the Canada Border Services Agency has directed passengers to be held on the aircraft until crowding in the immigration line has abated.
The situation is worst during the late afternoon and evening peak periods.
“It’s a problem for passengers and airline staff alike. Aircraft are not lounges. They’re built to transport, not host hundreds of passengers during delays beyond their control,” Doherty commented.
“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.”
To make matters worse, Doherty says Sunwing will no longer pay pilots during these ground delays even though the airline requires them to be there.
The union claims Sunwing is the only Canadian airline to not pay pilots during these ground delays – known within the industry as ‘metering holds’. At other carriers, long-haul pilots are generally required to be onboard with passengers, whereas short-haul pilots don’t have to be present.
The bottlenecks aren’t expected to be resolved anytime soon and could, in fact, get worse over the busy summer months.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.