A WestJet flight from Calgary arrives at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A WestJet flight from Calgary arrives at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Monday, July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

WestJet puts 1,000 workers on leave, citing government’s ‘Incoherent’ policy

International capacity will be down 93 per cent year over year and only five daily flights will be offered

The CEO of WestJet Airlines Ltd. is laying the blame squarely on “incoherent” policy from Ottawa as his carrier cuts staff and flights in response to new COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers returning to Canada.

The Calgary-based airline announced Friday about 1,000 employees will be furloughed, temporarily laid off, put on unpaid leave or have their hours cut, and it will chop about 30 per cent of its capacity for February and March and pull 160 domestic departures from its schedule.

Trip cancellations and reductions in new bookings began immediately after the federal government warned of the inbound testing rules and continued requirement for a 14-day quarantine on Dec. 31, said WestJet CEO Ed Sims in a statement.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,”’ he said.

“We have advocated over the past 10 months for a co-ordinated 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.”

The new flight cuts mean WestJet will have reduced flights by more than 80 per cent compared with the same time last year, it said.

International capacity will be down 93 per cent year over year and only five daily flights will be offered compared with 100 last year. Overall, it will offer 150 daily departures, returning to levels not seen since 2001, it said.

The federal government said last week that Canada-bound air passengers would have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board their flight — a requirement that took effect on Thursday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Wednesday the restrictions would go ahead as planned to coincide with the expiration of Canada’s ban on flights from the United Kingdom. Canada halted most air travel from the U.K., where a mutated strain of COVID-19 had been discovered, on Dec. 20.

Airlines and passengers had a turbulent 24 hours under the new testing regime.

WestJet said it had to deny boarding to 32 passengers on its six international flights into Canada on Thursday.

“Yesterday was a very busy day,” said spokeswoman Morgan Bell.

The travellers were turned away due to improper tests — antigen or antibody tests, rather than the required PCR test common in Canada and involving a deep nasal swab — no test at all, or one taken more than 72 hours before departure, she said.

“Our team on the ground has rebooked guests affected and is assisting with finding eligible tests whenever possible … to ensure they can return to Canada at a later date,” Bell said.

Air Transat denied boarding to 10 passengers who did not have a PCR test on its three northbound flights Thursday. A dozen more travellers were turned away on a flight from Paris on Friday morning.

“In addition, for the three flights, we observed a significant number of no-shows, which we cannot explain with certainty. We will follow the evolution of the situation closely in the coming days,” said Transat spokesman Christophe Hennebelle.

“There will be some stranded passengers, unfortunately – a little bit more heads-up and co-operation may have helped preventing this.”

On Wednesday, Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said the testing requirements were being imposed on “unrealistic” timelines and were already causing “chaos” for travel agents as travellers lined up to cancel trips.

WestJet, which was bought by Onex Corp. in 2019, joined Air Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing, along with the National Airlines Council of Canada and the International Air Transportation Association, in unsuccessfully asking Ottawa for an 11-day extension to implement the new rules.

In October, WestJet suspended service to four Atlantic Canada cities and laid off 100 corporate employees, after laying off 4,000 workers since the pandemic began.

Sims said in a statement on Friday that other WestJet workers will also see an impact on their paychecks, calling the workforce cuts a “cruel outcome for loyal and hardworking staff who have been diligently working through the pandemic.”

Dan Healing and Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

A 36-year-old Eckville pedophile  was sentenced to 18 years in prison and given a 10-year-long-term supervision order for abusing nearly a dozen children over a decade.
Black Press file photo
Updated: Central Alberta pedophile sentenced to 18 years in prison and declared long-term offender

Eckville man abused nearly a dozen children as young as two over nearly a decade

Short-term rental accommodation is becoming more closely monitored by local governments. File photo
Town of Sylvan Lake looking for input on short-term rentals

Currently, the Town does not regulate short-term rentals.

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Most Read