WestJet cancellations announced ‘in anticipation of’ strike

The WestJet Group says it has “started taking down its network” and cancelled a number of flights in preparation for strike action by WestJet and Swoop pilots.

The company says taking these steps ensures it “can avoid abandoning aircraft in remote locations without support,” as well as creates “the proactive communication with guests and crew to minimize the potential for being stranded.”

The WestJet Group goes on to say that it is “parking the majority of its 737 and 787” aircraft in what it sees as a “measured, phased, and safe approach,” adding some of its flights — WestJet Encore, WestJet Link, and a select number of 737s — will continue operating.

“We are extremely disheartened to find ourselves in a place where we have to activate our contingency plan and subsequent takedown of our network as a result of the strike notice served by (the Air Line Pilots Association) ALPA and their inability to accept a reasonable offer,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO, the West Jet Group.

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“We deeply regret the disruption this will have on the travel plans of our guests and the communities and businesses that rely on our critical air service,” von Hoensbroech continued, adding the company and union “remain at a critical impasse,” leaving the company “no choice but to begin taking the painful steps of preparing for the reality of a work stoppage.”

The decision came after the airline’s CEO said a massive gap remained between the company’s offer to pilots and the union’s counter-proposal for a new contract.

The ALPA has said pay, scheduling, and job security remain the main sticking points as round-the-clock negotiations continue.

The union issued 72-hour strike notice on Monday, saying its members could walk off the job Friday morning if a new deal isn’t reached by their deadline.


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While von Hoensbroech says the WestJet Group remains committed to reaching a deal, he adds the company is “equally ready to weather labour action for as long as it takes to arrive at a reasonable outcome.”

“Any guest impact is too high of a cost in the wake of these negotiations and we sincerely apologize that valued guests were caught in the middle of an avoidable conflict,” he continued.

The cancellations come ahead of what is expected to be a busy few days for travel, with many gearing up for the May long weekend.

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

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

Travellers are being asked to check the status of their flight before heading out.

Almost 100 flights cancelled Thursday morning

As of Thursday morning, the carrier had cancelled 92 flights or 17 per cent for that day, the aviation data firm’s figures show. Few flight cancellations had registered for Friday and afterward. But passengers are now unable to make online bookings for flights on major routes such as Calgary-Vancouver and Toronto-Calgary until Tuesday.

WestJet’s online daily flight status tracker showed 32 of its 162 listed departures out of its Calgary hub had been cancelled, while 20 of the airline’s 50 flights out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport had also been scrapped.

The federal labour minister and the government’s head mediator as well as WestJet’s CEO and the pilots’ union leaders have all descended on a hotel near the Toronto airport to work toward a deal.

Bernard Lewall, who heads the union’s WestJet contingent, says the workers’ issues revolve around pay, job security and scheduling, with pilots earning roughly half of what some of their U.S. counterparts make. The company said Thursday the union’s wage expectations were “unreasonable” and would “permanently damage the financial viability of the group’s future.”

The airline has advised travellers to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport, and to visit WestJet’s guest updates webpage or Swoop’s website for more information on flight status and travel changes.

With files from The Canadian Press

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