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'Every minute that passed the prices of flights were going up': Lynx Air travellers left scrambling to return home

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From paying for exorbitant last-minute tickets to sleeping overnight at airports and having flights cancelled after boarding the plane, Lynx Air travellers are sharing how they were left “stranded” abroad as the airline wound down operations.

On Friday, the Calgary-based airline announced it would cease all operations just after midnight on Monday, urging travellers to contact their credit card companies to seek refunds for their booked travel plans.

The abrupt closure forced some Lynx travellers to scramble to make last-ditch efforts to fly home while away on vacation.

Aedan Burnett flew to Cancun on Feb. 17 for a week-long vacation with his girlfriend – their first trip together. The two had a fun time away, Burnett told CTV News Toronto, but it quickly soured when they were notified at 10 p.m. Thursday that their flight home on Feb. 25 was cancelled.

“My girlfriend was asleep, and I was thinking of ways to wake her up to tell the news,” Burnett said. “I woke her up and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I got some bad news. We need to find a new way home.’ But yeah, I was not particularly thrilled, to put it mildly.”

To get home, Burnett said it cost $1,000 each for one-way tickets on an Air Canada flight home last Sunday – about double the amount they had initially paid for a round-trip with Lynx.

Aedan Burnett and his girlfriend during their trip to Mexico. (Aedan Burnett)

Joie Martinez, who also recently flew out to Cancun with her husband for the first time, said she was forced to sleep at the airport as they found out their return trip was cancelled as they arrived to check in.

“No notifications, no emails, no text, no calls,” Martinez told CTV News Toronto. “The people [at Lynx’s desk at the airport] told me all flights for Lynx are cancelled. We were really shocked, we don’t know what to do, what to say, and then […] they don’t even tell us – to help us out, what to do.”

They found an American Airlines flight that would take them to Toronto Pearson International Airport, costing $1,545 all together, but with a 12-hour layover in Dallas first. The flight to Dallas was scheduled to depart at 6:50 p.m. on Feb. 25, and instead of spending more money on accommodations, Martinez said she and her husband tried to sleep under a blanket in a corner of the airport.

“We were just budgeting our money. Like we cannot eat a full meal, but have to buy one burger and make it half,” Martinez said.

They landed back in Toronto at around 1 p.m. on Monday, and had to miss a full day of work.

“We spent one day, we’re supposed to go back to work today, me and my husband, but we were off so that’s no pay, and that’s hard,” Martinez said.

Stuck, stranded, and left scrambling

Angie Nelson flew from Calgary to Orlando with a large group of 12, including a two-year-old and a three-month-old infant.

“We received an email from Lynx on Friday, Feb. 23 that our flight home the next day had been cancelled. We were stranded in Orlando,” Nelson wrote in an email to CTV News Toronto.

Her group explored their options, first looking at WestJet flights as they were offering 25 per cent off economy fares for former Lynx routes on bookings made up until Feb. 29.

“Even while my husband was on the phone with WestJet, prices were jumping [more than four times the price of our original flights],” Nelson said, adding the earliest flight home with the Canadian airline was March 3.

They were travelling with five university students who had to get back in time for exams following their reading week break. Nelson said they were “scrambling to find anything back.”

“Every minute that passed, the prices of flights [were] going up. Our son-in-law ended up paying $1,919 for a one-way ticket to Edmonton, as he had an important school exam he had to get back for,” Nelson said.

The rest of the group, Nelson said, found tickets with Delta to Kalispell, Montana, which is a five-and-a-half-hour drive away from Calgary. After landing at around 9 p.m. on Feb. 24, they made it back home at around 2 a.m. after a family member drove across the border to pick them up.

The cost for their original return flights was $6,240 for 12 people, plus an infant, but Nelson said they had to pay an additional $10,090.

Rayyan Saiyed had his domestic flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg cancelled ahead of midterms, throwing him and his brother into “a complete mess.”

“I made it back in time for my midterm, but was really tired for it as the flight was so late,” Saiyed said, noting his Air Canada flight touched down at 1:30 a.m. on Monday. Meanwhile, Saiyed said his mother has remained in Vancouver since Feb. 17, “stuck” in the city.

Despite an hour delay, Steve Bergeron’s 85-year-old mother boarded her Lynx flight at Toronto Pearson on Friday morning. As per FlightAware’s tracking data, the flight, destined for Fort Myers, Fla., circled the tarmac before returning to its original gate.

Bergeron, through a statement provided by his mother, explained the engine sounded like it was revving for take off.

“At the last [second], the plane was [revving] down and the pilot then informed us that we were returning to gate as the flight was cancelled,” the statement read. “We were told we were going to be met with representatives with further explanation.”

All of the Lynx desks were closed when passengers disembarked, Bergeron said, and his mother waited about an hour until a wheelchair could be brought over to her.

“We had to scramble to send someone from the family to pick her up from out of town,” Bergeron said.

Several Canadians, impacted by Lynx Air’s closure, expressed concerns about getting refunds, especially as many had to pay more than what they bargained for to return home.

President of Air Passenger Rights, Gabor Lukacs, explained what may happen to everyone who bought a ticket with the now-defunct airline.

“Passengers who purchase tickets using a credit card may be able to obtain a refund of services that have been paid out but not received through statutory chargeback on their credit card under provincial legislation,” Lukacs told CTV News Atlantic.

“If they used a different method, it may be a challenge. Some banks may be able to offer them some help but credit cards do have to offer this protection in the vast majority of Canadian provinces.”

Higher airfares for Canadian airlines

Lukacs expressed concerns about Canadians’ reduction of choice for travel, as it could lead to higher airfares.

Lynx Air’s collapse flies on the coattails of WestJet shuttering its budget subsidiary Swoop, which it baked into its mainline operation in October (which is also the plan with Sunwing Airlines).

John Gradek, a faculty lecturer at McGill University, says Canadian air travellers are “the big losers” here.

“Canadians are about to lose low prices, and the stability of the Canadian air travel market is at risk,” Gradek told CTVNews.ca.

Cameron Doerkson, an analyst with the National Bank of Canada, pointed out in a letter to clients Friday that Lynx offers some of the “most aggressive” pricing on certain routes across Canada and to the U.S.

“Indeed, our weekly fare surveys generally show Lynx as having materially lower published fares than Air Canada on the routes we track,” Doerkson wrote.

Doerkson also flagged Lynx’s incapability of staying afloat could be seen as a red flag for future startups looking to jet across Canada.

“One of the financial backers of Lynx was Indigo Partners, a successful private equity investor in numerous low-cost airlines globally,” Doerkson said. “The fact that even with the help of an experienced investor, Lynx Air was unable to have success with its ultra-low-cost model strategy and was also unable to source additional capital to sustain its operations speaks to the challenges any startup airline faces in Canada.”

With files from CTV Atlantic and CTVNews.ca’s Christl Dabu 

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