WestJet is cutting jobs and slashing its flight capacity by a third because of what the airline calls “instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.”
The Calgary-based airline said in a release Friday that up to 1,000 of its employees will be impacted by “furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours.”
Ottawa recently changed the rules to require anyone coming into Canada to have a negative COVID-19 test in order to be allowed into the country. As soon as that happened, WestJet CEO Ed Sims said the airline saw “significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations.”
The airline lobbied the government to alter or delay implementation of the new rules, but Ottawa ultimately went ahead with them as planned.
“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” Sims said.
“We have advocated over the past 10 months for a co-ordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come.”
CUPE, the union that represents WestJet’s staff, told CBC News in a statement Friday that 175 flight attendants at the main airline will be laid off, and an additional 24 more at Swoop, their discount carrier. The individuals in both groups were initially laid off in April before being recalled over the summer, and are now being laid off for a second time during the pandemic.
Calgary-based independent airline analyst Rick Erickson, who does not have a business relationship with WestJet, says the move doesn’t come as a surprise.
“With these new COVID tests required of all arriving passengers, and just how very quickly they rolled that out, it wasn’t as though they they gave the air carriers or the industry itself much lead on this,” he said.
Government programs such as the wage subsidy have helped airlines like WestJet, but compared to other countries, he said the federal government has done considerably less for the industry. He expects more cuts to come unless something dramatic changes.
“I’m expecting the other shoe to drop, an Air Canada one, and I think it will be a loud bang when it hits the ground [because] they’ll be every bit as much impacted in the same way that WestJet has been.”
About 230 weekly departures cut
In addition to the job cuts, the airline is also slashing about 30 per cent of its flights for February and March. That includes cutting its number of international flights from 100 this time last year to just five now.
About 230 weekly departures have been cut, including about 160 domestic routes. About a dozen normally permanent flights to sunny destinations out of Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver have been cut, and seasonal service to the following locations has also been cut:
- The Caribbean island of Bonaire.
- Huatulco, Mazatlán and Ixtapa, Mexico.
- London, Gatwick.
- Nassau, Bahamas.
- Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
- San Jose, Costa Rica.
- Tampa, Fla.
- Turks and Caicos.
The flight reductions mean the airline will only have about 150 flights per day. That’s about what WestJet had in June of 2001.
The cuts come on the heels of the airline’s decision announced in October to shut down almost all of its operations in Atlantic Canada.