VANCOUVER (CUP) — Frugal and fuming students were among the estimated 17,000 travellers left stranded across North America when discount airline Jetsgo abruptly told its customers to find their own way home.
And thousands more had everything from Easter vacation plans to hopes of attending conferences dashed by the sudden announcement from the upstart carrier.
“We’ve been planning this for two years and then Jetsgo says it’s finished,” said University of Alberta student Sharon Ohayon, the director of an upcoming national debating tournament in Edmonton. “What do we do now?”
Over 100 people were planning to fly from their home universities to the Edmonton tournament, and a third of them were on Jetsgo, said Ohayon.
Calculating the costs of a lost Jetsgo ticket and a replacement ticket — about $700 each — times 27 people from McGill, Carleton, Guelph, York and Waterloo universities, the cost to the debaters alone would be “a ridiculous amount of money,” she said.
Jetsgo, an airline famous for its low fares but notorious for delayed flights and technical difficulties, was increasingly dogged by creditors like the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and Nav Canada until its sudden end at midnight, eastern time, Mar. 11.
Owing millions, Jetsgo filed for bankruptcy protection and grounded its planes.
Debaters don’t take things like this lying down, said Ohayon. In efforts co-ordinated through an Internet forum, debaters from across the country have been asking sponsors to fund the expense as well as phoning Transport Canada, the prime minister’s office and Jetsgo itself.
“Shouldn’t they be changing their name to ‘Jetstop’?” asked Ohayon.
The National Debating Championships, a tournament that features public speaking contests and structured argumentation, might have some new topics to discuss, she said.
“How about: ‘You’re in a room with the owner of Jetsgo. What do you do?’ It would get some creative responses. It’s one of the things that people have strong opinions about now.”
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations conference at Dalhousie University in Halifax avoided a disaster, as most delegates had booked flights on other airlines.
CASA spokesperson Caen Sunni said that a late-night survey of student unions showed that most were going to make it to the conference.
Mark Sward, vice-president of McGill University’s student union said he was glad he and two other McGill delegates had booked flights on Air Canada.
“If I were on Jetsgo, I would be annoyed, that’s for sure,” he said.
Montreal entrepreneur Michael Leblanc founded Jetsgo in 2002 from the ashes of Canada 3000, which also collapsed dramatically during the post-Sept. 11 travel chill.
The embattled airline recently came under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada after one of its planes skidded off the runway at the Calgary International Airport Jan. 20, hit a sign, then took off and landed safely.
On March 4, a departing Jetsgo plane left debris on a Toronto airport runway, and on March 5, a plane from Toronto was diverted to South Carolina due to an engine leak .