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

(File photo)
Case of COVID-19 confirmed in School District 69 (Qualicum)

Individual was at PASS/Woodwinds, with a last date of attendance of Jan. 22

The Qualicum Beach Cafe team: from left, host owner Eli Brennan, general manager Amy Turner, host owner/chef Alan Tse, chef de cuisine Todd Bright, sous chef Jack Mitchell and pastry chef/baker Noemie Girard. (Submitted photo)
Fresh start: Qualicum Beach Cafe set to offer West Coast dining

New operators bring wealth of culinary, hospitality experience

Professional hockey goalie Connor LaCouvee of Qualicum Beach. (PQB News file photo)
Qualicum Beach goalie Connor LaCouvee joins AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners

Backstop returns to North America after stint in Slovakia

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Most Read