More WestJet flight cancellations as Canadian airline strike hits more than 100,000 travelers

TORONTO (AP) — A strike by plane mechanics forced Canada’s second largest airline, WestJet, to cancel hundreds more flights Sunday, upending plans of roughly 110,000 travelers over the Canada Day long weekend and prompting the carrier to demand action from the federal government.

Some 680 workers, whose daily inspections and repairs are essential to airline operations, walked off the job Friday evening despite a directive for binding arbitration from the labor minister.

“WestJet is in receipt of a binding arbitration order and awaits urgent clarity from the government that a strike and arbitration cannot exist simultaneously; this is something they have committed to address and like all Canadians we are waiting,” WestJet Airlines President Diederik Pen said in a statement Sunday.

Since Thursday, WestJet has cancelled 829 flights scheduled to fly between then and Monday — the busiest travel weekend of the season.

The vast majority of Sunday’s trips were called off as WestJet pared down its 180-plane fleet to 32 active aircraft and topped the global list for cancellations among major airlines over the weekend.

Trevor Temple-Murray was one of thousands of customers scrambling to rebook after their trips were scrapped less than a day in advance.

“We’ll just have to wait it out,” said Temple-Murray, a resident of Lethbridge, Alberta, who waited in a car with his wife and 2-year-old son in the parking lot of the Victoria, British Columbia, airport. They were trying to get a plane to Calgary.

Their 6:05 p.m. flight had been cancelled, and they wouldn’t know until the evening whether a scheduled 7 a.m. flight the next day would go ahead.

“There are a lot of angry people in there,” Temple-Murray said, pointing at the terminal.

Nearby, Grade 10 exchange student Marina Cebrian said she was supposed to be back home in Spain early Sunday, but now won’t return to her family until Tuesday after enduring three flight cancellations.

“It’s distressing,” she said. “I was supposed to be at home today, like seven hours ago, but I’m not.”

Both WestJet and the Airplane Mechanics Fraternal Association have accused the other side of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

The union’s goal remains a deal hammered out through bargaining rather than by an arbitrator — a route it opposed from the start.

The union says its demands around wages would cost WestJet less than $8 million Canadian (US$5.6 million) beyond what the company has offered for the first year of the collective agreement — the first contract between the two sides. It has acknowledged the gains would surpass compensation for industry colleagues across Canada and sit more on par with U.S. counterparts.

WestJet says it has offered a 12.5% wage hike in the first year of the contract, and a compounded wage increase of 23.5% over the rest of the 5 1/2-year term.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up