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As Canadian airlines continue to face federal government travel restrictions, WestJet announced on Jan. 8 it has been forced to make further cuts. The result will see the dismissal of 1,000 employees through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours. A hiring freeze has also been implemented.
“Immediately following the federal government’s inbound testing announcement on Dec. 31, we saw significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations,” Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO, said in a statement.
As of Jan. 7, 2021, all air passengers over the age of five must test negative for COVID-19 before traveling from another country to Canada. Even with a negative test result, those authorized to enter Canada must still complete a 14-day quarantine.
Referring to it as a “hasty new measure,” Sims accused the restrictions of causing “unnecessary stress and confusion” and warned that travel for Canadians might become “unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for years to come.
“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” he added.
The Calgary-based airline is making further cuts to its schedule, removing approximately 30 percent of its currently planned February and March capacity and reducing domestic frequencies by 160 departures. WestJet will be operating only five daily flights to international markets, compared to 100 last year. As a result, the airline is operating at “a more than 80 percent reduction year over year.”
Sims said the new COVID-19 testing policy left them with “no other option,” referring to the impact on WestJet employees and a “cruel outcome for loyal and hardworking staff who have been diligently working through the pandemic.”
The airline suspended 11 routes and announced a seasonal suspension of 13 international and transborder destinations. At approximately 150 daily departures, WestJet said it returns to “levels not seen since June 2001.”
The suspended routes include: Edmonton-Cancun; Edmonton- Puerto Vallarta; Edmonton-Phoenix; Vancouver-Cancun; Vancouver-Phoenix; Vancouver-Puerto Vallarta; Vancouver-Cabo; Vancouver-Los Angeles; Vancouver-Palm Springs; Calgary-Las Vegas; and Calgary-Orlando.
International and transborder destinations affected by a seasonal suspension include: Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Huatulco, Ixtapa, London (Gatwick), Mazatlán, Nassau (Bahamas), Port of Spain, San Jose (Costa Rica), Tampa, and Turks and Caicos.
In October 2020, WestJet pulled back from Atlantic Canada due to the pandemic’s impact on air travel demand, indefinitely suspending more than 100 weekly flights from the Atlantic region, as well as operations to Quebec City, with the removal of Toronto service.
Canada’s major airlines have been advocating for more government support for several months now, including a bailout package and a coordinated testing regime. The federal government responded with a list of stipulations, including that airlines must first issue refunds to passengers for flights cancelled as a result of the pandemic. A package of assistance has not yet been announced by the government.