Ahead of one of the busiest weekends of the year, Canada's second-largest airline may be forced to cancel numerous scheduled flights.
The group that represents WestJet pilots issued a 72-hour strike notice Monday, May 15 evening, which means a work stoppage may start as early as Friday, May 19 at 2 a.m., affecting thousands of scheduled flights over the May long weekend.
The strike may also affect travellers scheduled to fly on the airline's discount carrier, Swoop.
On Tuesday afternoon, WestJet said there is no impact on operations so far. But if the strike moves forward and flights are cancelled or delayed, it will provide additional flexibility for guests travelling between May 15 and May 21.
B.C. traveller Elfie Pavlakovic said they booked an "introductory flight deal" with WestJet with a friend for direct, round-trip flights to Nashville, Tennessee for $315 per person.
Since they are scheduled to depart on May 22, Pavlakovic told V.I.A. that they "feel hostage as I only have till Friday to cancel hotel reservations or I am stuck with them and a car rental.
"This feels like COVID all over again."
Art Morrell also has upcoming flights with WestJet to Barcelona, Spain with his wife but feels less apprehensive due to his travel dates.
"At the moment I am not too worried about the May 30 departure as I can’t see them leaving the airline shut down for a couple of weeks as they would lose too much money and a lot of customers may not come back," the Metro Vancouverite told V.I.A., adding that he would start looking at other airlines if a deal isn't reached by May 25.
The local man is scheduled to return on June 28 but noted that he wouldn't mind spending extra time in the popular vacation destination if needed.
Booking Vancouver flights with other airlines
Canada's largest airline, Air Canada, told V.I.A. that its fleet is already fully deployed and it has minimal ability to increase capacity.
The airline said it also has limited seating available on its scheduled flights but its "staff are aware of the situation and are prepared to assist to the extent they can, should that be required."
Canada's third-largest airline, ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines, announced Monday that it was "ready and willing" to ramp up its current flight schedule to offer contingency plans to affected WestJet passengers.
On Tuesday, Flair added extra flights between Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, which will commence at the start of the holiday weekend on Friday. Additionally, it plans to increase flights to more destinations if the strike continues for an extended period.
“Flair Airlines stands ready, willing, and able to add additional flights. We hope this measure will help WestJet passengers who otherwise could not travel due to the pilots’ strike,” said Stephen Jones, CEO of Flair Airlines.
“Our teams are eager to help and the first of the extra flights went out for sale last night with a starting fare of $99.”
The airline said it has seen an uptick in flight bookings since the strike was announced and has been ramping up its flights accordingly.
What a WestJet lockout means for affected customers
Travellers on WestJet flights between May 15 and May 21 will be provided with "additional flexibility" if the strike moves forward.
Guests will receive an email to the address they provided when they booked their flights if there have been delays or cancellations to their tickets. The airline notes that they will be "refunded or re-accommodated, as applicable."
WestJet must offer travellers a refund or book them on the next available flight with another airline, even if they do not have an interline agreement, according to Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR). However, compensation will vary based on whether the flights are domestic or international.
The Air Passenger Rights group, founded by president Gabor Lukas, advises travellers to record their interactions with WestJet as evidence, "including refusal to offer compensation or rebooking, may turn out to be crucial evidence to enforce your rights to compensation."
The APPR guidelines qualify a pilot strike as outside of an airline's control, meaning that travellers on domestic flights may be entitled to less than people travelling internationally.
Have a look at the APR's guide on what you should consider if WestJet cancels your ticket.