WestJet temporarily suspends flights to four domestic hubs

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Operating at more than a 90% reduction year on year, Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is temporarily suspending operations to St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, London in Ontario and Lloydminster as well as Medicine Hat in Alberta. Services to the four domestic hubs will be suspended from 19 March to 24 June 2021.

Commenting on how the airline has continued to operate in the face of uncertainty throughout the pandemic as travel restrictions have caused demand to plummet, Ed Sims,  WestJet President and CEO said: “Unfortunately with new and increasingly restrictive policies, we are left once again, with no other option than to suspend services to these communities.”

In June 2020, the airline announced organisational changes through its airport transformation programme. As a result of the suspensions, WestJet will be working directly with newly established third-party service providers in St. John’s and London, Ontario, and directly with Pacific Coastal Airlines for affected WestJet Link operations in Lloydminster and Medicine Hat.

Flights between St. John’s and Halifax will be suspended as of 21 March, while service between London, Ontario and Toronto will cease on 22 March. WestJet Link service from Calgary to Lloydminster will end on 19 March and Calgary to Medicine Hat discontinued as of 21 March.

“Our ability to return to markets remains directly correlated to government policies and the prioritisation of a domestic travel programme,” continued Sims. “As we look ahead to contributing to the economic recovery of Canada, the relationship between testing and quarantine must evolve based on data and science.”

Essential air access to remote communities in Canada to benefit from government support

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The Government of Canada has agreed with the Government of Ontario to support essential air access to remote communities who rely on small carriers for essential goods and services, as well as access in and out of their communities.

In addition to the Canadian Government’s contribution of up to $11,134,000 for air services to remote communities to cover the period from 1 July to 31 December 2020, the Government of Ontario is investing $14.2 million to operate remote airports in 2020/ 21, including an additional $4 million this year to ensure continued safe operations during the pandemic.

Under the latest agreement the Government of Ontario will allocate funding to air operators to ensure the continued supply of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods and services to these communities. Additional funding could be provided and will depend on the needs of communities and the pace of recovery of air travel into remote communities.

There are 34 remote communities in Northern Ontario, 28 of which do not have year-round road access and rely on small commercial air carriers for essential services and goods.

“Ontario’s small air carriers play an essential role in connecting northern and remote communities with goods and critical services,” said the Honourable Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, Government of Ontario.  She added that the  announcement of additional support “builds on our government’s ongoing investment and support through our remote and northern airports programme, demonstrating our continued commitment to supporting communities in Northern Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

Canada’s Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, added that, “While we continue to work together to limit the spread of COVID-19, we must also ensure remote communities continue to have the air connectivity they need for essential goods and services, travel and business. The agreement with the Government of Ontario will allow for reliable air services to keep remote communities in Ontario connected to the rest of the country.”

WestJet slashes capacity with knock-on effect on domestic hubs

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Following the Canadian government’s decision to introduce inbound testing and the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, WestJet has noted significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations on flights. Subsequently the airline has made further cuts to its schedule as it continues to face volatile demand and instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.

Cuts to the airline’s schedule include the elimination of more than 230 weekly departures (including 160 domestic) and the removal of more than 30% of capacity versus prior months. It will also include the suspension of 11 routes (Edmonton-Cancun, Edmonton-Puerto Vallarta, Edmonton-Phoenix, Vancouver-Cancun, Vancouver-Phoenix, Vancouver-Puerto Vallerta, Vancouver-Cabo, Vancouver-Los Angeles, Vancouver-Palm Springs, Calgary-Las Vegas, Calgary-Orlando).

Around 1,000 employees across the WestJet Group will also be impacted through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leave and reduced hours. There will also be a hiring freeze implemented.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in response to the government’s new testing regime. “We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated 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,” Sims continued.

“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,” he added.

The airline plans to remove approximately 30% of its currently planned February and March capacity from the schedule, a more than 80% reduction year on year. In addition, the airline will reduce domestic frequencies by 160 departures as frequently evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance continue to negatively impact demand trends.

COVID-19 testing Canadian airports

Pressure mounts for rapid COVID-19 testing at Canadian airports

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COVID-19 testing Canadian airports

Faced with the major Air Transat layoffs announced for November the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is calling on the federal government to immediately deploy rapid COVID-19 screening at Canadian airports.

As a result of the layoffs Air Transat’s Vancouver base will be closed completely until further notice and the Air Transat component of CUPE has learned that the number of its flight attendant members will drop to less than 160 in November, from a total of 2,000 employees in pre-Covid times.

“All of our information indicates that Air Transat’s resumption of activities in the summer and fall of 2020 was totally safe for passengers and staff,” said Julie Roberts, President of CUPE’s Air Transat component.

A rapid screening system that provides pre-boarding results would be a crucial addition for reviving the airline industry. We sometimes forget that more than 600,000 jobs in Canada depend on this industry, directly or indirectly. What we need is an efficient federal screening programme.

In total CUPE, which is the largest union in Canada, represents more than 13,100 members in Canada’s air transport sector. In addition to Air Transat, this includes employees at Air Canada Rouge, Sunwing, CALM Air, Canadian North, WestJet, Cathay Pacific, First Air, and Air Georgian.