National News

More WestJet flights grounded as airline says resumption of operations to 'take time'

By The Canadian Press

Published 10:15 PDT, Tue July 2, 2024

Last Updated: 1:00 PDT, Tue July 2, 2024

WestJet passengers faced more flight disruptions Tuesday despite a deal reached over the weekend to end a strike by its mechanics, as the airline says full resumption of operations "will take time."

The airline said it cancelled 75 flights scheduled for Tuesday and expected eight more cancellations on Wednesday. That was on top of 104 delays Tuesday according to tracking service FlightAware.

WestJet said it scrubbed 1,051 flights between Thursday and Monday.

Some 680 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association had walked off the job on Friday evening despite a directive for binding arbitration from federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan. 

The tentative agreement was announced late Sunday night, but the strike had already disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of travellers over the Canada Day long weekend.

WestJet said in a statement Monday that "further cancellations will be required over the coming days." It noted the following day that it had "taken significant strides" to resume normal operations, with 125 of WestJet's 180 fleet active across the airline’s network.

The Calgary-based airline said part of the challenge it faces is that its aircraft are parked at 13 airports across Canada, and in several cases, the crews need to be transported to the aircraft for retrieval.

But unlike disruptions during the labour stoppage, Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said WestJet is to blame for the travel woes Tuesday. He said it's reasonable for the airline to take up to 24 hours to ramp back up, but not much longer.

"When they park those planes across the country they still park them in a way that they know where they will be picking them up from," he said.

"That grace period has long passed. WestJet now has to deliver. If they're not able to deliver, that's fully within WestJet's control and it is not a safety issue. It's just not managing their business well."

For flights cancelled post-strike, Lukacs said WestJet is responsible for providing meals and accommodation, up to $1,000 in compensation, plus rebooking a flight that departs within nine hours of the original departure time on the carrier's network or that of its competitors.

"If they don't do it, the passenger can go out, buy a ticket for themselves, and then they can get a judge to order WestJet to pay up," he said.

On Tuesday, some WestJet customers were informed of a brief window to purchase discounted flights.

An email advertised a promotion to save up to 30 per cent on travel between July 9 and Feb. 16, 2025 when booking by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. The carrier said the deal applied to more than 95 destinations.

In May, WestJet Encore reached a deal with its pilots to narrowly avoid a potential strike.

Air Canada customers are also hoping to sidestep a potential labour stoppage amid stalled negotiations between that airline and the union representing its pilots.

The Air Line Pilots Association, representing more than 5,000 Air Canada pilots, said last month the two sides are not close to a deal despite a year of contract talks, including close to six months of voluntary mediation.

The union had said it would request help from a federal conciliator after leaving the voluntary process on June 15.

The Canada Labour Code stipulates the federal minister of labour has up to 15 days to appoint a conciliator, after which a 60-day period of talks begin. If no deal is reached in the talks, there’s a 21-day cooling-off period before the union could be in a position to strike.

– Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press

With files from Christopher Reynolds in Montreal.

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