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

photo courtesy of Lara Angus
Kate Syson, Sharon Fischer and Allan King pose with the Zamboni on Stettler’s newest skating spot.
photo courtesy of Lara Angus
Stettler Elementary leadership take the Zamboni for a spin

Sharon Fischer and Kate Syson lend a hand for Stettler’s new skating spot

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

blessing
Bentley Blessing Pantry continues to faithfully serve the community

‘We just wanted to make everyone aware that we are still here to serve you throughout this coming year.’

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

'The Coronavirus Isn't Scary' by Kristy Walker.
Sylvan Lake author pens first children’s book about COVID-19

“The Coronavirus Isn’t Scary” by Kristy Walker teaches children to take care of themselves

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie are serving sit-down customers in their Mirror diner to protest health restrictions that they say are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta restaurant owner defies health restrictions by serving diners

Whistle Stop Cafe owner says pandemic restrictions unfair to restaurants and small businesses

The Northwest Territories flag flies on a flagpole in Ottawa on July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta man charged with threatening Northwest Territories public health officer

Police did reveal the nature of the threats, but said it was concerning

A healthy volunteer receives an injection in this undated handout image provided by Providence Therapeutics. Human clinical trials have begun in Toronto for a proposed COVID-19 vaccine by a Canadian company. Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says 60 subjects will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Providence Therapeutics *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Calgary company begins human clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate

If successful, the vaccine could be released by the end of the year

A healthy volunteer receives an injection in this undated handout image provided by Providence Therapeutics. Human clinical trials have begun in Toronto for a proposed COVID-19 vaccine by a Canadian company. Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says 60 subjects will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Providence Therapeutics
*MANDATORY CREDIT*
Calgary company begins human clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate

If successful, the vaccine could be released by the end of the year

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

Most Read