The labour conflict between WestJet and its pilots’ union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is intensifying a possible strike this week that has travellers scrambling ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend.
The ALPA, which represents some 1,600 WestJet pilots, posted a 72-hour strike notice on Monday night (May 15). Hours later, WestJet announced its own lockout notice, noting a work stoppage could occur as soon as Friday (May 19) in the early morning hours.
Since then, round-the-clock negotiations between WestJet and the ALPA have ramped up as the deadline looms.
Pilots at WestJet and its low-cost subsidiary Swoop – as of today (May 17) – are preparing to walk off the job as of 3 a.m. EST this Friday, which could lead to the grounding of all aircraft and shut down operations.
WestJet has almost a third of Canada's domestic market. According to Cirium data, the airline has 540 flights scheduled for Friday and 457 for Saturday.
The pilots are seeking better job protections, benefits and wages that they say will bring them in line with their U.S. counterparts.
But WestJet’s CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech says there's still a significant gap between the airline's offer to pilots and the union's counter-proposal.
“The gap is still massive,'' von Hoensbroech said yesterday of the proposals during a video call from the bargaining venue, a hotel in Richmond Hill, ON, reports the Canadian Press.
In a previous statement, the CEO said pilot expectations of closing in towards U.S.–like wages, despite living and working in Canada, are “not reasonable.”
“We believe with a commitment from both parties, an agreement is achievable and are committed to offering pilots a competitive collective agreement with meaningful improvements for the Canadian market, whilst remaining competitive at the same time,” von Hoensbroech said.
As concerns over a strike intensify, WestJet’s bookings have been “softening,” von Hoensbroech noted.
WestJet is offering flexibility for guests travelling between May 15 - 21, 2023, should a work stoppage, flight delays and/or cancellations occur.
The airline says details will be sent directly to impacted customers, via the email provided at the time of booking, and passengers are advised to visit this site for updates.
Under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), airlines that cannot operate a scheduled flight must offer to rebook impacted passengers on a flight with another airline within 48 hours of the original departure time.
After that point, passengers are entitled to a refund but may also accept a voucher with the airline if one is offered. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has outlined information for WestJet customers here.
Meanwhile, WestJet posted a Q&A on Tuesday (May 16) to address some of the questions its customers may have. PAX has re-posted it here for reference.
When is the earliest a work stoppage could occur?
The earliest a work stoppage could occur is Friday, May 19 at 3:00 a.m. MT.
What advice do you have for guests if their flights get cancelled?
Issuing notice does not mean a work stoppage will occur. However, in the coming days, the WestJet Group will take all necessary actions to manage the impacts as much as possible, including:
Beginning preparations to operate a temporarily reduced schedule – unfortunately, this will be a significant reduction from WestJet and Swoop’s current networks.
Proactively managing changes and cancellations, to enable us to communicate with guests in advance of changes.
Providing flexible change and cancel options for those who wish to make alternate arrangements.
Why would The WestJet Group initiate a lockout?
The decision to initiate a lockout was not made lightly and we recognize the impact this could have on our guests travel plans and on our people. Unfortunately, this decision was the only available option to ensure we can manage flight disruptions in a manner that allows us to proactively communicate changes to our schedule and provide advance notice of travel impacts to our guests.
We continue to make progress at the bargaining table and remain confident that with a commitment from both parties, we can reach an agreement before labour action is taken and avoid disrupting the travel of our valued guests.
Is WestJet providing refunds to guests who are impacted by this disruption?
Should flight delays or cancellations occur, impacted guests will be refunded or reaccommodated, as applicable.
For travel between May 15 - 21, 2023, WestJet has provided additional flexibility for guests’ peace of mind. For more information, guests are invited to visit the WestJet Guest Updates page.
Does the potential labour stoppage impact WestJet Encore flights?
The current labour negotiations between The WestJet Group and ALPA, pertains to WestJet and Swoop pilots exclusively. WestJet Encore flights will continue to operate in the event labour action occurs.