WestJet’s CEO says the company will revisit its policies after the airline faced criticism for allowing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to speak on the PA system during a recent flight.
Addressing the matter on X, the platform formally known as Twitter, on Wednesday (Sept. 13), CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said WestJet is “non-partisan by nature,” noting that Poilievre’s sky speech was “not a political endorsement nor should it be interpreted as such.”
As PAX reported earlier, the Conservative leader made a short speech on board a WestJet flight Sunday evening (Sept. 10).
Video footage circulating on social media shows Poilievre standing at the front of an aircraft cabin, holding an intercom receiver, delivering roughly 45-second campaign-style address, which was met with both laughter and cheers from passengers on board.
As seen in the video, the politician thanked WestJet’s pilot and cabin crew, while also criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policies.
“Who’s ready to give a big thank you to the WestJet pilots and crew?” Poilievre asked in the video. “There will be a little bit of turbulence but it will only last for about two years…We’ll have a totally new pilot and crew in charge, pierce through the storm and safely land in our home, the country we know and love. Your home, my home, our home…Let’s bring it home.”
The moment has sparked mixed reactions on social media – users are voicing both support for Poilievre, and disapproval – along with questions about whether it was right of WestJet to allow a politician to address passengers on an airplane.
Juno Award-winning singer, television star and author Jann Arden, for one, wasn’t having any of it.
"A P.A. system on a plane is for the flight crew. Full stop. Not a political soap box for social media,” the singer wrote on X, commenting on a video that captured Poilievre on board.
Arden, who was not on the plane at the time, followed up with a second tweet, telling WestJet that she would never do business with the airline again.
“This is so ridiculously disappointing,” Arden wrote.
Flight added for convention
Comments from WestJet later revealed that while the flight wasn’t a charter (it was open to the public), the service was, in fact, added to accommodate delegates attending a Conservative Party convention in Quebec City.
"To assist demand for the CPC convention, WestJet added two commercial flights for service between Western Canada and Quebec City,” WestJet spokesperson Madison Kruger told PAX in a statement earlier this week. “The use of the PA microphone onboard our aircraft, while infrequent, may be approved occasionally, for unique occasions and individuals, like this one. WestJet routinely adds capacity for conventions, sports, festivals and key events."
It appears Poilievre was granted permission to speak in the skies ahead of time, reports say.
"The use of the PA in this circumstance was approved in advance by WestJet operational leadership and up to the final determination of the operating crew,” WestJet told CTV News.
The airline’s CEO reiterated this point on social media yesterday.
“The leader of the party was given the opportunity to greet delegates onboard (which is not unusual),” von Hoensbroech wrote on X, noting that the flight was “specifically added” to assist with demand for the CPC convention.
At any rate, the union that represents WestJet’s cabin crew is now demanding an apology from the airline.
In a statement Wednesday (Sept. 13), CUPE Alberta's local president Alia Hussain called it “very disappointing'' that WestJet allowed a politician to use their PA system.
“It is very disappointing that WestJet management let a politician use the public announcement (PA) system on a recent flight for his political statement. It is doubly disappointing that WestJet is now trying to assign blame on the cabin crew for this event. The cabin crew had no input into this decision,” Hussain wrote.
“WestJet’s own work rules state clearly that no one other than operating crew are to use the PA system.”
Hussain went on to say that a plane’s cabin crew “should never be put in a position” of having to take a political stance.
“Giving Mr. Poilievre a platform showed bad judgement by WestJet,” Hussain wrote. “Mr. Poilievre showed bad judgement taking that opportunity. It is the cabin crew who deal with passenger complaints. WestJet management and Mr. Poilievre should not have put them in that position.”
“A flight’s PA system should be used to give passengers information they need and require. The crew is responsible for the safety of everyone on board, and we take that responsibility seriously.”