OTD: Air Canada cuts 1/10th of its workforce during Iraq War, SARS outbreak

On today’s date in 2003, Air Canada announced plans to cut 3,600 of its 35,000 jobs – 10 per cent of its workforce – as the Iraq War worsened an ongoing travel slump.

The airline also cited the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as a reason for the cuts, according to a story published by The Globe and Mail.

“The Canadian Auto Workers and the union representing machinists and baggage handlers revealed Monday they will lose more than 2,300 jobs as their share of 3,600 job cuts announced March 20 as Air Canada copes with a recent decline in passenger traffic caused by the Iraq war,” reads the March 2003 story.

A financial analyst also published a report stating the airline’s shares were “effectively worthless.”

By December 2003, Air Canada filed for and was granted court protection from its creditors—commonly referred to as bankruptcy protection.

Another medal struck in 1976 commemorates Air Canada’s first flight to Cuba, which took place on May 28, 1976.


Almost 17 years to the day – on March 16, 2020 – Air Canada cut its capacity in half as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upturned global travel as government restrictions pile on worldwide.

“Canada’s largest airline announced Monday that it will seek to save $500 million in cash by cutting costs and deferring capital spending. It also suspended its financial guidance for 2020 and 2021,” reads a story published last year by the Financial Post.

“The cost-cutting measures will include workplace reductions, but Air Canada did not elaborate on how many layoffs it expects.”

Air Canada stock fell more than 30 per cent after the federal government restricted international flights to four airports (in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal).

“The restrictions on travel imposed by governments worldwide, while understandable, are nonetheless having a cataclysmic effect upon the global airline industry,” said Calin Rovinescu, president and chief executive of Air Canada, in a statement issued March 18, 2020.

Air Canada has reduced its domestic flights from 62 airports to 40. Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Bathurst airports are among those affected.

A year later, in March 2021, most flights remain grounded due to the pandemic.


In Air Canada’s 1964 annual report, the airline mentions its decision to commission the Royal Canadian Mint to strike a series of nickel medallions.

Throughout the 1970s, Air Canada issued medallions commemorating its inaugural flights to certain destinations, including one issued for the 25th anniversary of the inaugural Montreal-Paris flight and one for the inaugural flight to Cuba on May 28, 1976. The medals measure roughly 32 millimetres in diameter and are made of silver.

The commemorative Montreal-to-Paris medal depicts a javelin thrower and the Eiffel Tower alongside “Anniversary 25 Anniversaire, Paris Montreal Air Canada.” The opposite side shows a maple leaf and the year-date.

The commemorative Cuba medal depicts flowers engraved over a map of Cuba with the date “28-5-76.” The opposite side depicts a maple leaf alongside “Vuelo Inaugural, Inaugural Flight, Vol Inaugural.”

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