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As airports across the country prepared for the influx of March Break travelers, Flair Airlines’ operations encountered an unexpected snag. On March 10, the Edmonton-based ultra-low-cost carrier had four aircraft unexpectedly detained without notice.
At the time of publication, Skies confirmed that the aircraft were grounded due to a “commercial dispute” between the lessor and Flair.
Currently, four Boeing 737-800 aircraft have been taken out of service — two at Pearson International Airport (YYZ), one at Edmonton International Airport (YEG), and one at Waterloo Region International Airport (YKF).
A statement issued by Flair described the action “by a New York-based hedge fund” (a lessor of Flair Airlines’ aircraft) to seize four of its planes as “extreme and unusual” and that this unprecedented action aggrieves the airline.
“Flair Airlines will continue to engage in a consensual mediation with the lessor to remedy the situation,” the statement said.
While the motivation behind confiscating the aircraft remains unclear, Stephen Jones, Flair’s president and CEO, revealed in a statement that “there are airlines that don’t want Flair to exist.”
He added: “But Flair will fly. And we will thrive. The airline will continue to deliver the lowest fares on offer to Canadians. Full stop.”
As delays and cancellations arose, news of the grounding traveled swiftly. Flair’s official spokesperson, Mike Arnot, shared with Skies via email that the airline has begun operating four aircraft that were on reserve for the busy summer schedule.
“We fully anticipate we will fly our existing schedule and are working expeditiously to do that,” he added. “We do not foresee any major disruptions to our route map. Customers with bookings in the coming weeks do not need to be concerned.”
On March 11, Flair stated via Twitter that although they have “experienced some service disruptions at YEG, YYZ & YKF,” the airline is “doing everything … to get [its] customers to their destinations as soon as possible.”
The statement continued: “We are truly very sorry passengers were impacted today and are taking steps to get them on their way with minimal disruption.”
Skies spoke with Waterloo International Airport’s (YKF) director Chris Wood, who shared that the airport remains a “neutral adversary,” meaning the dispute lies strictly between the lessor and Flair.
“The police were called because for us to cooperate with what the leasing company wanted, we needed [local authorities] to authorize [our actions].”
Wood explained that despite the grounding of one aircraft at YKF, there were minimal cancellations and only minor delays.
“Flair has assured us that they are going to operate every single flight and are bringing in extra aircraft, so every single [passenger] will be taken care of, and we are very appreciative.
“[That said], while Flair and the lessor are coming up with an agreement, we have agreed not to let the airplane leave [the airport] until further notice,” he told Skies.
Flair has “deployed a dedicated team” focused on rebooking canceled flights with either Flair or other airlines “at no additional cost.”
“Alternatively, customers can rebook their own travel and receive reimbursement within seven days. Flair Airlines is committed to getting our customers to their destination and will cover all costs for rebooking airfare for affected customers,” Arnot said.
Flair Airlines launched in 2004 and began operations from its Edmonton hub in 2018. In September 2022, the ultra-low-cost carrier announced its ambitious growth plans to add seven new 737 Max 8 aircraft to its current fleet of 20 737s by the summer of 2023, expecting to create roughly 350 jobs across the country.
The news of Flair’s growth came roughly four months after the validity of the airline’s operating license was in question, following concerns raised by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) that Flair may have violated foreign ownership rules.
Flair worked with the CTA over a two-month period to address all the concerns raised, and on June 1, 2022, the CTA issued its final determination stating that Flair is, indeed, Canadian.
During a media event on March 7, 2023, Jones confirmed that Flair’s 737 Max fleet stood at 19 aircraft, in addition to three 737-800s, and that the airline would add another six 737 Max aircraft to its fleet by summer 2023 — bringing the Max fleet to 25 aircraft.
The airline hopes to reach 50 aircraft by the 2025-26 timeframe.
This is a developing story.