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.”

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.