A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday February 3, 2014. The proposed acquisition of WestJet Airlines by Onex Corp. moved a step closer to completion after Canada’s transportation regulator determined the airline will continue to meet Canadian ownership and control requirements. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

WestJet flight attendants anticipate sweeping layoffs due to COVID-19

Union expecting layoffs of more than 50% of its staff

The union representing WestJet flight attendants is expecting layoffs of more than 50 per cent of its staff as the number of flight cancellations continues to mount amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

An internal memo sent to union officials and obtained by The Canadian Press says that travellers are rebooking en masse and “our airline’s well-being has become grave overnight.”

“As our crew members face the global health situation head on, we are now seeing members booking off in such massive numbers that the airline operations are quickly becoming unsustainable,” the union email reads.

Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE 4070 — which represents cabin crews at WestJet and its budget subsidiary Swoop — said that daily conversations with senior management alerted him to the increasingly ”severe” situation.

“Basically all new bookings are drying up,” he said. “It’s literally changing by the hour.”

As recently as Wednesday morning, job reductions of only 12 per cent seemed likely, he said, a number that matches WestJet’s recent forecasts.

Since then, however, the U.S. has implemented a ban on most travel from Europe; business trips, large gatherings and daily commutes have dropped off; and institutions from the National Hockey League to Broadway have suspended their seasons.

ALSO READ: Man arrested after making fake coronavirus claim on Westjet flight leaving Toronto

Rauenbusch said one flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles this morning that had booked 150 passengers took off with just 12 on board.

He said the full impact of the novel coronavirus epidemic is just starting to sink in, as flight cancellations increase and consumers turn away from airports to make a run on toilet paper.

“We’ve tried to communicate the gravity of the situation,” he said. “I’m not sure reality has set in yet.”

WestJet did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday the government plans to restrict the airports that can accept international flights, so people arriving on them can be more closely screened. The list of airports that will be included has not been settled yet, he said.

WestJet company said Wednesday that flight reductions may hit its domestic, transatlantic and vacation destinations as well as trips to the U.S.

Other cost reduction efforts introduced this week include a company-wide hiring freeze and voluntary leave options.

ALSO READ: Canada’s largest airlines waiving fees to change flights because of coronavirus

Flight attendants at Air Canada said no word had come down about job reductions.

“At the moment, we’re not aware of layoffs or anything like that,” said Canadian Union of Public Employees spokesman Hugh Pouliot.

Canada’s largest airline has seen its stock price plunge by more than half over the past two months. It has suspended flights to mainland China and Italy and cut back routes to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul as travel fears spread with the new virus.

In response to the travel bans and cancellations, Delta Air Lines said Friday it will cut passenger-carrying capacity by 40 per cent, the biggest reduction in the carrier’s 91-year history.

Delta, which is talking with the White House and Congress about potential relief, plans to halt all flights to continental Europe for at least 30 days and ground up to 300 aircraft to save cash.

Recent booking fee waivers by Air Canada and WestJet have failed to stem the tide of cancellations or encourage new bookings as countries impose border controls and domestic quarantines.

Transat AT Inc., which owns Air Transat — and which Air Canada bought in a deal awaiting regulatory approval — has seen daily bookings plunge by 50 per cent year over year this month, executives said Thursday.

“Things are moving super-fast at this point,” Julie Roberts, who heads CUPE’s airline division of 15,000 flight attendants, said in an email Friday.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Food bank doing well thanks to volunteers and donations

Chair applauds staff for stepping up in time of turmoil

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

BC SPCA team helps discover new feline virus after outbreak at Quesnel shelter

Fechavirus is a kind of parvovirus, which makes cats and kittens very sick

Restaurants adjust to loosened restrictions

Gateway Grill in Clearwater is one of the establishments that’s reopened its doors to in-house guests

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Minneapolis cop who knelt on man’s neck charged with murder

Arrest comes after three days of protests, which escalated in violence as demonstrators torched a police precinct

Most Read