Fests fret as Air Canada calls a strike

Montreal's No. 1 sponsor may not deliver

MONTREAL — A pilots’ strike at Air Canada caused major travel headaches Wednesday for guests and organizers at the Montreal World Film Festival and has executives at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival desperately hoping the dispute is resolved before the fest kicks off Sept. 10.

Late Tuesday, talks broke off between Air Canada, the country’s leading airline, and its 2,100 pilots, and, as expected, the pilots association immediately called a strike for the first time in the airline’s history.

Air Canada is the official airline of both the Montreal and Toronto film festivals and it handles a large number of the guests at both events. In addition, it is an important corporate sponsor of the two festivals. Air Canada is Montreal’s No. 1 sponsor and has been since the creation of the festival 22 years ago.

At the Montreal festival headquarters at the Wyndham Hotel on Wednesday, filmmakers, executives and journalists were desperately trying to make alternative travel arrangements, and most seemed resigned to the fact that their trip home was going to take much longer than expected.

Airline assurances

A spokesman for the Montreal festival said the airline has given fest organizers assurances that all of their guests would be taken care of.

“Air Canada has an emergency plan for us,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, and most of our guests will be able to arrive or leave on other airlines.”

There have been no guest cancellations due to the Air Canada strike, according to festival organizers.

More than 1,000 guests heading to next week’s Toronto festival will be using Air Canada, roughly one-quarter of the industry and media reps heading to the event. The Toronto festival has had to deal with postal and city transit strikes in the past, but this would be the first airline labor dispute to disrupt the fest.

“Hopefully this is not a strike that is going to linger,” said Toronto Festival director Piers Handling. “(A week) seems like a long strike to me. My sense is that they’re not that far apart. Air Canada is a great sponsor, and they’ve assured us they’ll do everything they possibly can and, if they re-route people, it’ll probably work out OK. Hopefully our guests believe this is a must-attend event and they’ll do everything to be here.”

The pilots union and Air Canada management were still not talking at the end of the afternoon Wednesday. The main issues in the dispute are wages and working conditions for the pilots, with the pilots association asking for the workload to be reduced substantially.

Union representatives say the Air Canada pilots make from 30% to 50% less than pilots in Europe or the U.S.

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