WestJet slashing jobs, cutting 100s of flights amid COVID restrictions

WestJet is cutting hundreds of flights and laying off employees in an attempt to stay afloat amid the continued coronavirus restrictions that have hammered the travel industry since the pandemic started.

On Friday, the Calgary-based airline announced it’s going to reduce its “capacity,” which is the equivalence to 1,000 employees — through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours. There’s also a hiring freeze.

On Dec. 30, the feds announced that Canada will require anyone entering the country to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight. The new rules kicked in on Jan. 7.

“Immediately following the federal government’s inbound testing announcement on December 31, and with the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, we saw significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations,” Ed Sims, WestJet CEO, said in a statement.
Travellers returning to Calgary dealing with new COVID-19 rules

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others.”

WestJet said it will operate around 150 daily departures, “returning to levels not seen since June 2001.”

The company is removing around 30 per cent of its planned February and March capacity from the schedule.

This includes the elimination of more than 230 weekly international flights and 160 domestic flights.

Suspension of the 11 routes include:

  • Edmonton to Cancun
  • Edmonton to Puerto Vallarta
  • Edmonton to Phoenix
  • Vancouver to Cancun
  • Vancouver to Phoenix
  • Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta
  • Vancouver to Cabo
  • Vancouver to Los Angeles
  • Vancouver to Palm Springs
  • Calgary to Las Vegas
  • Calgary to Orlando

There is also “seasonal” suspension of 13 international and destinations, which include:  Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Huatulco, Ixtapa, London (Gatwick), Mazatlan, Nassau (Bahamas), Port of Spain, San Jose (Costa Rica), Tampa, and Turks and Caicos.

The company said, “any impacted guests will be contacted directly.”

Canada’s commercial airlines have been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger levels down as much as 90 per cent thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and fear of catching the illness.

In October, labour leaders called on Ottawa to provide immediate financial aid. The heads of two pilots’ unions and Unifor asked the federal government to offer carriers loans totalling $7 billion at a one per cent interest rate.

However, the feds said support for the airline industry will be contingent on carriers providing refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled.

“Before we spend one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, we will ensure Canadians get their refunds,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Nov. 8. “We will ensure Canadians and regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada.”

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