MONTREAL (AP) _ Discount Canadian airline Jetsgo sought bankruptcy court protection and abruptly canceled all its flights Friday, stranding an estimated 17,000 passengers, many of whom were heading out on spring break.
The privately held company issued the stunning announcement minutes into Friday morning. It is asking Quebec Superior Court to grant it protection from creditors.
Jetsgo advised customers to make alternative arrangements before heading to the airport since there would be no Jetsgo staff or planes available. Travelers who are already away were told their return tickets were no good and to make other arrangements to get back home.
``Obviously this is one of the worst times it could have happened because of the March break,'' said federal Transportation Minister Jean Lapierre, who urged other airlines and the national train system to try to add more capacity to handled the stranded passengers.
The shutdown comes at the start of March break for many school systems across Canada, when hordes of families flock to Florida, Mexico and other hot spots served by the airline in one of the busiest travel times of the year.
``We deeply regret that this had to happen. The decision to cease operations was only taken after difficult deliberation,'' Jetsgo president Michel Leblanc said in a statement.
Jetsgo said that difficult market conditions and competitive pressures led the company to discontinue operations and ground all of its planes.
``In the meantime, we encourage our passengers to contact their travel agent or an alternative airline,'' Leblanc said.
But many Jetsgo passengers can't afford alternatives.
A spokesman for archrival WestJet said the carrier would do its best to take care of Jetsgo passengers and stranded crew members.
Air Canada spokeswoman Laura Cooke said the timing of Jetsgo's failure would make it tough to find seats for extra passengers.
``Obviously, the problem at this time of year is that the aircraft are already flying rather full because ... of March break,'' Cooke said.
Air Canada cannot honor Jetsgo tickets but said it would try to make more aircraft and seats available for Jetsgo passengers to purchase.
Jetsgo had at least 18 flights scheduled to leave Toronto's Pearson's Airport _ Canada's transport hub _ on Friday morning, including domestic, U.S. and Mexican destinations.
The company said in its statement that consumers who have paid for Jetsgo tickets should communicate with the Canadian Transportation Agency or provincial consumer affairs ministries.