WestJet flight cancellations climb to 832 as standoff with mechanics continues into third day

The Calgary-based airline has now parked all but 32 of its 176 aircraft

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WestJet has cancelled a total of 832 flights as of Sunday as the airline’s mechanics continued to strike for the third consecutive day.

The Calgary-based airline has now parked all but 32 of its 176 aircraft, decimating its ability to serve flights during a busy long weekend that traditionally marks the beginning of the busy summer travel season.

The cancellations come amid a standoff between WestJet and its mechanics’ union that appears no closer to being resolved.

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In a Sunday afternoon update, WestJet President Diederik Pen said the airline is awaiting clarity from the federal government that a strike and arbitration cannot exist at the same time. Some 680 workers — whose inspections and repairs are critical to airline operations — walked off the job on Friday despite a directive for binding arbitration from the federal labour minister.

Calgary International Airport’s departures schedule on Sunday was covered in red, with more than 110 flights outbound of Calgary cancelled as of noon.

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The two parties have accused each other of refusing to negotiate in good faith, hurling accusations over news releases and social media posts. While the airline announced more cancellations, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) laid responsibility for the cancellations solely at the feet of WestJet, saying it considers “the responsibility for this harm to rest exclusively with WestJet.”

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In a Saturday post to LinkedIn, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech wrote he’d “never encountered such an unreasonable counterparty.” The airline executive said in his post that AMFA is solely intent on maximizing damage to WestJet on the long weekend. “This particular union did not shy away from tanking their members vote on a tentative agreement just to get us into peak summer, in order to disrupt as many guests as possible,” von Hoensbroech wrote.

The job action comes after union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative deal from WestJet in mid-June and following two weeks of tense talks between the two parties.

As the clock ticked down toward a Friday strike deadline, the impasse prompted Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan to step in, mandating that WestJet and the union undertake binding arbitration headed by the country’s labour tribunal — a process that typically sidesteps a work stoppage.

Diederik Pen and Alexis von Hoensbroech
President of WestJet Airlines Diederik Pen (L) and WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech speak at a media briefing at the WestJet head office in Calgary on Saturday, June 29, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Calgarian in Vegas opting for 17-hour drive home

Will Heseltine is one of tens of thousands of passengers managing their travel plans due to the strike.

Heseltine was in Las Vegas this weekend for the NHL Draft. He received an email Saturday night that his Sunday flight has been cancelled — and was subsequently rebooked for a flight home to Calgary on Thursday. After attempts to book an affordable flight to Calgary and needing to return for the work week starting Tuesday, he and his friend rented a car, opting to make the 18-hour drive through Utah, Idaho and Montana.

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“We were more worried about Craig Conroy, not about WestJet management,” Heseltine said over the phone in Cedar City, Utah, where he’d stopped on the drive back to Calgary. “I guess we were wrong about the wrong thing.”

Heseltine said he’s been frustrated by WestJet’s handling of the situation and has been unable to reach customer service. “We’re kind of in the wind,” he said.

Blair Gregory, a London, Ont. resident, was at Calgary airport with his wife, Isabel and one-year-old Henry waiting to return home having spent two weeks in the Rockies. Expecting to fly home Sunday, they’re now travelling home on Tuesday after booking with Flair Airlines.

“We’re lucky enough that we can afford it and hopefully we can get some of that money back,” Gregory said.

WestJet passengers stranded amid strikes
Blair Gregory, wife Isabel and 1-year-old son Henry, from London, ON are shown at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary on Sunday, June 30, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Premier calls on federal government to end work stoppage

Alberta politicians have also stepped in with their positions on the dispute involving the Calgary-based airline. Western Canada is particularly affected by the strike due to WestJet’s major presence in the region.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said in a post to X that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board’s “decision to allow the strike to continue during binding arbitration is a clear contravention of all norms, practices, and precedent when it comes to good faith labour bargaining.” Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen also called on the federal government to end the work stoppage.

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Alberta NDP labour critic Peggy Wright did not make the same demands to the federal government, urging both parties to return to the bargaining table and reach an agreement that provides WestJet mechanics with a decent living.

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— With files from Jim Wells and The Canadian Press

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X: @mattscace67

WestJet mechanics on strike
WestJet mechanics picket on the departures level at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary on Sunday, June 30, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

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