WestJet cancels thousands of domestic flights as demand drops

A new Transport Canada measure came into effect at airports Monday, requiring travellers to wear face coverings when going through security screening. Blake Lough reports.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it will lay off 3,000 people and cancel more than 4,000 domestic flights weekly in May as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer the airline industry.

The company said it will remove some 600 daily flights from its schedule between May 5 and June 4 — about 18,000 trips in total — due to “significantly reduced guest demand.”

“The reality of this crisis continues to require WestJet to make mission-critical decisions to ensure the sustainability of our airline,” WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims said in a statement Wednesday.

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“With less than five per cent of our pre-COVID-19 guest loads, work is simply not currently available.

“These decisions, while difficult, are being thoughtfully and methodically made so that we can weather this crisis and be ready for a future where we can provide inactive WestJetters with fulfilling employment once again.”

The Calgary-based carrier said all international flights, including to the U.S., remain suspended through June 4.

Sims said WestJet appreciates Government of Canada programs during the pandemic and will use the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to retain people on the payroll and to ensure they remain connected to the company.

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“We continue to work with our employee and labour groups on ways to maintain employment through the crisis.”

Last week, Air Canada halted most international flights until June, while Air Transat and Sunwing Airlines Ltd. cancelled all trips until May 31.

The decisions extended the suspension of more than 160 Air Canada routes as well as Air Transat and Sunwing trips by another month as closed borders and vanishing demand ravage the travel sector.

WestJet and other airlines offer two-year vouchers for trips they’ve cancelled, though advocates argue travellers should be entitled to refunds for flight services paid for but not received, as in the United States and the European Union.

–With files from Global’s Christa Dao

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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