Tourism industry relieved as WestJet strike ends only days before Stampede

The Calgary-based airline was still recovering on Tuesday, with many flights cancelled across the country

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Calgary’s tourism industry is breathing a sigh of relief and kicking into high gear for Stampede after WestJet and its mechanics ended a three-day-long strike.

The Calgary-based airline was still recovering Tuesday, with many flights cancelled around the country. Eighteen WestJet flights leaving Calgary were cancelled on Tuesday as of midday, a steep improvement from more than 110 cancellations on Sunday and more than 80 on Monday.

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Just three flights scheduled to leave Calgary on Wednesday have so far been cancelled. Since last Thursday, 1,137 WestJet flights across Canada had been scuttled.

WestJet said in a statement that part of the challenge is that aircraft are parked at 13 airports across Canada. In several cases, crews need to travel to the aircraft for retrieval.

More than 20 WestJet planes were parked at the Calgary International Airport during the strike. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Hoteliers, tourism industry anxiously awaited deal as Stampede weekend neared

Calgary’s hotel industry wasn’t deeply affected by the flight cancellations, said Sol Zia, executive director of the Calgary Hotel Association. The number of room cancellations was in “the hundreds . . . not thousands,” he said. Canada Day weekend doesn’t tend to attract as many tourists because it’s more family-oriented and out-of-town visitors often stay with relatives and friends, he said.

The greater concern, however, was the threat the labour action would bleed into the week before Stampede when performers and thousands of visitors — including countless corporate guests taking up residence in hotels — will be flying into Calgary.

“It would have been dramatic,” Zia said.

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The association is projecting 130,000 guests will visit Calgary over the 10-day outdoor show. Performers and artists playing at Stampede also frequently arrive several days before the rodeo.

“We were very concerned. There’s the guests coming in, and then there’s a large number of performers coming into the city, and they would come a little bit earlier,” Zia said.

Alisha Reynolds, CEO of Tourism Calgary, said there were conversations “at a high level” around contingency planning for Stampede had the strike persisted into the week, but didn’t elaborate.

“The hope was for a quick resolution, a focus on safety and getting all travellers back to their planned itineraries as quickly as possible,” Reynolds said.

The Calgary Stampede did not respond to Postmedia’s request for comment.

WestJet strike
WestJet customers check in at the Calgary International Airport on Monday, following the end of the strike. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Passengers may not receive compensation

After a weekend many say damaged WestJet’s reputation, the airline faces a steep challenge to make it up to passengers, said Robert Kokonis, president of AirTrav Inc., a Toronto-based aviation consultancy.

Travel disruptions caused by work stoppages or strikes out of an airline’s control are not eligible for compensation, according to Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR). Based on that, WestJet isn’t required to compensate the more than 100,000 passengers affected by the strike, Kokonis said.

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“I would say WestJet is really stuck between a rock and a hard place. But if you go by the (regulations), they’ve got no rock and hard places — open and shut, they don’t need to pay,” Kokonis said.

“But in terms of brand and reputational damage, they’re going to do something.”

Some have argued WestJet played an active role in the work stoppage and flight cancellations. John Gradek, aviation expert and professor at McGill University, said he believes WestJet was partly responsible for the strike.

“To me, this one is wholly within (WestJet’s) control,” Gradek said.

The Canadian Transit Agency, the country’s transportation regulator, said in an email that a strike is considered outside of the airline’s control and, as such, WestJet must rebook passengers on its next available flight scheduled to leave within 48 hours of its original departure time. If it cannot do that, it’s required to provide a refund or make alternate arrangements for passengers.

Dissatisfied customers or those who haven’t received a response within 30 days can ask the CTA to review the case by making an official complaint.

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Now that the strike has concluded, 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.

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Kokonis said WestJet may offer a major seat sale in the coming weeks and provide points members with deals. It may also seek individual compensation packages for people who missed “irreplaceable” things such as weddings.

“As a goodwill ambassador, WestJet might want to take a look at some cases where it was a pretty tough pill to swallow,” he said. “But it’s a challenge, because once you open the door a crack, what does that mean for everybody else?”

WestJet did not respond to an interview request from Postmedia.

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.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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