WestJet has started preemptively cancelling flights across its network ahead of a looming strike that could see thousands of flights cancelled over a busy May long weekend.
The announcement has sparked panic among travellers who have upcoming flights booked that are scheduled to leave in the upcoming days. While WestJet has stated that it will refund or rebook its customers, many locals have expressed concern that there aren't many options available to them on such short notice.
In a statement released late Wednesday (May 17) night, the WestJet Group said it was starting to cancel flights on its flagship carrier as well as its budget brand, Swoop.
The airline said the action ensures it can "avoid abandoning aircraft in remote locations without support" and allows them to proactively communicate with guests and crew "to minimize the potential for being stranded."
The decision comes as WestJet and its pilots' union reached an impasse regarding what the airline deems "unreasonable wage expectations." If WestJet meets the union's demands, it claims it would "permanently damage the financial viability" of the company's future.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) advised travellers Thursday morning that the airline was beginning to cancel flights out of its airport.
WestJet customers should check the status of their flight online and not go to the airport for assistance if their flight is cancelled.
YVR travellers react to WestJet strike notice
Metro Vancouverites who booked tickets with the carrier that are scheduled to depart in the near future have taken to social media to express their concerns.
While many people support the pilots, they worry that there aren't many alternative flight options and that available ones are exorbitantly priced. For instance, Vancouverite Dara Fontein remarked that she wished WestJet would "just tell us either way" since other options are fully booked or cost upwards of $1,200 for a one-way, two-hour flight.
Another individual said they were "checking the news every 10 [minutes] to get an update," while Vancouver traveller Natalie said she's looking into options in Bellingham that cost more than her original ticket that left from YVR.
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 [like a] 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."
First the CRA, now Westjet??????— MSG | BOBC5 🔜 Lei🌱 (@cypher_kek) May 17, 2023
MAN it’s like the universe just doesn’t want me to go to Japan or something what the-@WestJet pay your pilots so I can leave this country lmfao pic.twitter.com/6mpkab20Hp
personally and selfishly I need this westjet thing to sort itself out before a strike happens— Dara Fontein (@deefontein) May 17, 2023
I know, I wish they'd just tell us either way (although in the meantime all the alternative flight options have been fully booked or are $1,200+ for a one-way 2 hour flight)— Dara Fontein (@deefontein) May 17, 2023
Agreeeed I'm checking the news every 10mins to get an update 🙃— MeanSerene⁷ (@MeanSerene) May 17, 2023
Same! I'm so torn because I want the pilots to get everything they're asking for, but I also REALLY need this vacation— Symonne Madalena (@symonnemadalena) May 17, 2023
If @WestJet could act right and pay their pilots in time for my golf trip next week that would be grrreat.— alexander reed (@original_zander) May 18, 2023
Agree. I looked at flights even out of Bellingham and they’re over what I paid. I purposefully book direct so there’s unfortunately not a lot of equivalent flights— Natalie (@natvana) May 18, 2023
Guess who had (has?) a flight from Dublin-Vancouver tomorrow on Westjet?— James Gemmill (@jamesgemmill) May 18, 2023
What WestJet cancellations mean for travellers with Vancouver flights
Flair Airlines has added additional flights on routes connecting Vancouver with Calgary and Edmonton but hasn't stated whether it will increase flights on other routes out of YVR. Air Canada said it does not have the capacity to ramp up its current schedule.
Travellers on WestJet flights between now 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.