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WestJet cancels flights as Friday pilot strike looms

The sides have been trying to negotiate a new deal for months.

The WestJet Group of companies, which includes WestJet and Swoop airlines, has begun winding down flight schedules in preparation for a pilot strike that is set to begin on Friday, May 19.

The airline said they are taking the steps to ensure that no aircraft are abandoned in remote locations, nor in locations where support for those aircraft cannot be provided.

“We deeply regret the disruption this will have on the travel plans of our guests and the communities and businesses that rely on our critical air service,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, Chief Executive Officer, the WestJet Group.

“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.”

According to the live departures information provided by the Calgary International Airport, as of 8:30 a.m. on May 18, there have been 24 cancellations of WestJet flights. There have also been an additional 17 arriving flights that have been cancelled.

The majority of those flights are in the evening and nighttime, ahead of the labour action deadline of 3 a.m. on May 19.

WestJet said they would be parking most of their Boeing 737 and 787 fleet, while limited WestJet Encore and WestJet Link routes would continue with 737 service.

RELATED: Calgarian pays up to avoid risky travel scenario as WestJet pilot strike looms

Agreement not reached as of Thursday morning

Hoensbroech said that a tentative agreement between WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) had not been reached.

“We are extremely disheartened to find ourselves in a place where we have to activate our contingency plan and subsequent take down of our network as a result of the strike notice served by ALPA and their inability to accept a reasonable offer,” he said.

“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.”

WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council Vice Chair Captain Chris Tholl provided an update to pilots, WestJet staff, and the public from the union’s perspective early on Thursday morning.

Speaking approximately 28 hours before the labour action deadline, Capt. Tholl rejected Hoensbroech’s argument as to why a deal had not been met, quoting the ALPA national president Captain Jason Ambrosi.

“The hedge fund calling the shots and these negotiations, Onyx, doesn’t care about the sacrifices our brothers and sisters made during Covid. They don’t care about the sacrifices they continue to make day in and day out. And they certainly don’t care that thanks to the highly trained aviators at WestJet, flying remains the safest mode of transportation in Canada,” Tholl said.

“They only care about one thing making as much money as they can for themselves. And unfortunately, this is why negotiations have gotten so slow.”

Capt. Tholl addressed the anxiety that WestJet employees and the public are likely feeling due to pending labour action from ALPA.

“You don’t know if you’re going to make it home, you’re wondering what your suitcases gonna look like when you leave, and we need everybody to know that we have the best interest of this company at heart, especially the pilots of this company.”