Flair Airlines say four of its planes are “not operational” after “extreme and unusual” actions by a U.S.-based lessor to seize the aircraft amid a commercial dispute.
In an emailed statement to Global News Saturday, a spokesperson for Flair Airlines said a “commercial dispute” with a New York-based hedge fund and lessor had affected four of its planes.
“Flair Airlines is aware of extreme and unusual actions taken by a New York-based hedge fund and lessor of certain Flair Airlines aircraft,” the spokesperson said.
“The airline is aggrieved by this unprecedented action.”
The spokesperson added that the airline was involved in ongoing communications with the company and “payment has been initiated.”
“Flair Airlines will continue to engage in a consensual mediation with the lessor to remedy the situation,” the statement read.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the lessor in question is Airborne Capital.
The source, who isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter, told Global News that Flair wired money to Airborne on Saturday but was five days behind on payments worth roughly $1 million.
The airline had been “shocked” by the seizure, the source said, adding that while Airborne had given notice on Friday it wanted to terminate its leases for the four planes with Flair, it did not indicate it was planning a seizure of the aircraft.
Airborne Capital declined to comment when contacted by Global News.
Amid the seizure, Flair said it is activating three spare aircraft that it had planned to use in the summer.
What about March Break travel plans?
The full impact of the seizures on flight cancellations and delays is not yet clear.
Justin Beaudoin from Peterborough, Ont., was supposed to fly back home Saturday night on Flair after a five-day cruise holiday in Florida, but his flight from Fort Lauderdale to Kitchener got cancelled.
In an email to Beaudoin, which was shared with Global News, Flair said the cancellation was due to “unanticipated maintenance delays within (the) airline’s control, but required for safety.”
“I’m just surprised, kind of annoyed because it’s a crappy way to end a vacation,” Beaudoin said.
He was offered another flight for Monday night, but he ended up booking a more expensive one with WestJet because he had to return to work.
Beaudoin, who has applied for a full refund, said the whole experience has “ruined” his expectation of Flair and made him nervous about flying on it in the future.
“I was looking forward to the fact that it’s more economical, but I guess the lesson learned here is that sometimes cheaper isn’t always better.”
Canadian airlines and airports are bracing for a surge of passengers over the busy spring break after a chaotic winter holiday travel period that left travellers stranded in foreign destinations, and massive delays in airports around the world in the summer after many COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted.
All of that has spurred questions of whether Canadians planning for March Break travel could face similar delays and frustrations.
Flair said in its statement to Global News that despite the seizure of the four planes, it “will continue to fly its schedule.”
“The airline will utilize additional fleet capacity to minimize the impacts on passengers and does not foresee any major disruptions to its route map,” the spokesperson said.
“We are truly very sorry passengers were impacted today, and are taking steps to get them on their way with minimal disruption.”
Last spring, the Edmonton-based airline faced scrutiny over concerns that too much of its operations were controlled by a U.S.-based partner, according to a preliminary review from the country’s transportation watchdog that was obtained by Global News.
In an initial ruling released in March 2022, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) said that the ultra-low-cost airline might not be Canadian enough to qualify for its licences to fly in the country.
But after Flair overhauled its board of directors and made a series of governance changes to limit the influence of one of its major U.S.-based investors, the CTA ruled on June 1 that the airline indeed met the letter of the law to keep flying.
Did you have a Flair flight delayed, cancelled or impacted this weekend? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Craig Lord.