A WestJet flight from Calgary arrives at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A WestJet flight from Calgary arrives at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

WestJet puts 1,000 workers on leave, citing government’s ‘Incoherent’ policy

International capacity will be down 93 per cent year over year and only five daily flights will be offered

The CEO of WestJet Airlines Ltd. is laying the blame squarely on “incoherent” policy from Ottawa as his carrier cuts staff and flights in response to new COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers returning to Canada.

The Calgary-based airline announced Friday about 1,000 employees will be furloughed, temporarily laid off, put on unpaid leave or have their hours cut, and it will chop about 30 per cent of its capacity for February and March and pull 160 domestic departures from its schedule.

Trip cancellations and reductions in new bookings began immediately after the federal government warned of the inbound testing rules and continued requirement for a 14-day quarantine on Dec. 31, said WestJet CEO Ed Sims in a statement.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,”’ he 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.”

The new flight cuts mean WestJet will have reduced flights by more than 80 per cent compared with the same time last year, it said.

International capacity will be down 93 per cent year over year and only five daily flights will be offered compared with 100 last year. Overall, it will offer 150 daily departures, returning to levels not seen since 2001, it said.

The federal government said last week that Canada-bound air passengers would have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board their flight — a requirement that took effect on Thursday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Wednesday the restrictions would go ahead as planned to coincide with the expiration of Canada’s ban on flights from the United Kingdom. Canada halted most air travel from the U.K., where a mutated strain of COVID-19 had been discovered, on Dec. 20.

Airlines and passengers had a turbulent 24 hours under the new testing regime.

WestJet said it had to deny boarding to 32 passengers on its six international flights into Canada on Thursday.

“Yesterday was a very busy day,” said spokeswoman Morgan Bell.

The travellers were turned away due to improper tests — antigen or antibody tests, rather than the required PCR test common in Canada and involving a deep nasal swab — no test at all, or one taken more than 72 hours before departure, she said.

“Our team on the ground has rebooked guests affected and is assisting with finding eligible tests whenever possible … to ensure they can return to Canada at a later date,” Bell said.

Air Transat denied boarding to 10 passengers who did not have a PCR test on its three northbound flights Thursday. A dozen more travellers were turned away on a flight from Paris on Friday morning.

“In addition, for the three flights, we observed a significant number of no-shows, which we cannot explain with certainty. We will follow the evolution of the situation closely in the coming days,” said Transat spokesman Christophe Hennebelle.

“There will be some stranded passengers, unfortunately – a little bit more heads-up and co-operation may have helped preventing this.”

On Wednesday, Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said the testing requirements were being imposed on “unrealistic” timelines and were already causing “chaos” for travel agents as travellers lined up to cancel trips.

WestJet, which was bought by Onex Corp. in 2019, joined Air Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing, along with the National Airlines Council of Canada and the International Air Transportation Association, in unsuccessfully asking Ottawa for an 11-day extension to implement the new rules.

In October, WestJet suspended service to four Atlantic Canada cities and laid off 100 corporate employees, after laying off 4,000 workers since the pandemic began.

Sims said in a statement on Friday that other WestJet workers will also see an impact on their paychecks, calling the workforce cuts a “cruel outcome for loyal and hardworking staff who have been diligently working through the pandemic.”

Dan Healing and Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

Lori Jantz snapped this picture of a fight between a bald eagle and an osprey above Osoyoos Lake on Friday. (Lori Jantz photo)
Battle in the sky erupts above South Okanagan lake

Bald eagle and osprey fight mid-air in Osoyoos

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

Royal LePage Arena was an addition to West Kelowna championed by Len Novakowski. (File photo)
West Kelowna community leader Novakowski dies

Former Westside regional district director Len Novakowski dies after lengthy health battle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read