Travellers worry as WestJet strike deadline looms

With Friday’s deadline fast approaching, passengers who could be stranded by a potential WestJet pilot strike are watching negotiations carefully.

Some, like Vancouver’s Joe Gilchrist, have been spending their vacation time worrying about other options for getting home should their flights be impacted by any job action.

Gilchrist has been in Mexico for close to a week and hopes to be home in Vancouver by the weekend, but he says he has been left stranded by WestJet cancellations before.

“It has been in the back of my mind all week,” he told CityNews from Puerto Vallarta, adding that he has been scanning for other flights home just in case.

“This isn’t my first time having disruptions in my travel plans. Back in November there was a WestJet computer outage and I was stuck in Edmonton for a couple of days. In December when there was the snowstorm in Vancouver, I was stuck here in Puerto Vallarta.”

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Gilchrist says there are worse places to be stranded and he’s fortunate enough to be able to handle any potential delays.

“Instead of being stuck on hold for hours with WestJet customer service, I will just check myself into a hotel and I will let the airline and travel insurance sort it out when I get back home,” he explains, suggesting he is now a seasoned veteran when it comes to airline cancellations.

“I’ve learned to submit the receipts to WestJet and they will reimburse me two weeks to a month later for certain expenses like hotel, food, and transportation to and from the airport.”

WestJet has said that in the event of any delays or cancellations caused by the potential job action, customers will be refunded or re-accommodated as needed.

Almost 2,000 pilots ready to walk off job

The airline’s CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech says a massive gap remains between the company’s offer to pilots and the union’s counter-proposal for a new contract.

The Air Line Pilot’s Association says pay, scheduling, and job security remain the main sticking points as round-the-clock negotiations continue.

Around 1,800 pilots at the carrier and its Swoop subsidiary are ready to walk off the job Friday after the union issued a strike notice Monday night.

In response to the strike notice, WestJet issued a lockout notice to maintain “control” over its planes, the CEO said.

The standoff leaves thousands of passengers with travel plans for the May long weekend and beyond hanging in limbo and von Hoensbroech says it has already affected bookings.

With more than 16,700 flights slated for this month, WestJet carries nearly a third of Canada’s domestic market.

Competitors like discount Flair Airlines have been adding flights on some routes in an attempt to attract worried travellers and cash in on the potential extra business.

“Flair Airlines is willing and able to add additional flights. We hope this measure will help WestJet passengers who otherwise could not travel due to the pilots’ strike,” says Stephen Jones, CEO of Flair Airlines.

With files from The Canadian Press

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