In anticipation of a WestJet and Swoop pilot strike, WestJet management began cancelling flights Thursday, grounding Regina and Saskatoon residents looking to get out of the province for the long weekend.
As of noon on Thursday, there have been 98 network-wide cancellations.
The group said they are cancelling a majority of its 737 and 787 fleets to avoid stranding passengers away from home.
“The decision to cancel flights comes as the WestJet Group remains in a stalemate with the union regarding unreasonable wage expectations that if realized, would permanently damage the financial viability of the group’s future,” read a WestJet release Thursday.
President of Air Passenger Rights Gabor Lukacs said passengers shouldn’t “jump the gun” and contact WestJet without proof of cancellation.
“Give WestJet a chance to rebook you,” he said. “They have an obligation to rebook you. If they are unable to rebook you on a flight that departs within 48 hours from your original departure time, they have to buy you a ticket on a competitor’s flight.
“Think of it like a chess game. You want to move the pieces in the right order,” Lukacs said.
WestJet pilots issued a 72-hour strike notice Monday night while they negotiate terms for better wages with WestJet management.
The WestJet Group claimed that they brought forward a contract that would make its first officers and captains “the highest paid narrow-body pilots in Canada, with a significant advantage over the next best paying Canadian airline.”
“We remain at a critical impasse with the union and have been left with no choice but to begin taking the painful steps of preparing for the reality of a work stoppage,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, chief executive officer with the WestJet Group.
“We remain at the bargaining table, unequivocally committed to achieving a deal as soon as possible, but are equally ready to weather labour action for as long as it takes to arrive at a reasonable outcome.”
Justin Reves with the Regina airport said they are already seeing cancellations.
“We’re just on the phone with WestJet right now,” said Roger Phrakonekham. He and his family were stranded in Regina Thursday after their flight to Vancouver was cancelled.
“They don’t even want to cover us for our accommodations while we are stuck here in Regina,” said Phrakonekham, whose final destination is Maui. “I’m here with my family and we have little kids and they’re, you know, crying and stuff so it’s really stressful.”
When the family spoke to Global News, they had already been trying to reach WestJet representatives for over two hours.
“If you phone their call centre and there is no way to get through, that is good enough evidence that there is no hope they are going to rebook you,” said Lukacs. “You as a passenger can go out and buy yourself a ticket on another airline and then make WestJet pay for it.”
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