WestJet Could Lay Off More Pilots As Crisis Drags On

Layoff notices have been sent to an undisclosed number of WestJet pilots. The airline says the notices are being distributed in advance of a March 31st memorandum of agreement (MOA) expiration, in order to be contractually compliant. The airline, along with several other Canadian carriers, has been crippled by blanket travel restrictions imposed by the federal government. While airlines are in talks with the government for sector-specific funding, no firm agreement has been announced on the subject.

WestJet Could Lay Off More Pilots As Crisis Drags On
WestJet’s mainline fleet mainly consists of Boeing 737s, including the new MAX. The carrier also has a number of fairly new 787-9 Dreamliners. Photo: Getty Images

Simple Flying reached out to Westjet, inquiring about the situation. The airline responded saying:

“The current MOA is set to expire on March 31, and we continue to be hopeful that ALPA and WestJet can reach an agreement to mitigate any further impact to our pilot group as a result of the pandemic. While this work continues, in order to be contractually compliant, lay-off notices will be sent to the affected pilots.” – Westjet Spokesperson.

Travel restriction fallout

WestJet’s move to reduce its workforce largely stems from a lack of demand, caused by intense restrictions and policies set by the Canadian government.

According to Global News, the Calgary-based carrier had already announced on February 5th that it would lay off 120 cabin crew members, effective on March 2nd.

As the crisis drags on, the Canadian government has made decisions in recent months to further restrict air travel. The country has already had a blanket policy (all countries) in place since March 2020 to ban non-essential international travel, keeping non-citizens and residents from entering Canada.

However, this policy still allowed Canadians (and legal residents) to fly out (to any destination that would accept them) and back into the country, with a 14-day self-isolation requirement. This meant that for months, Canadians were able to fly down south to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Westjet 737
Flights to Mexico and the Caribbean were the main target of the Canadian government’s most recent restrictions. Photo: Getty Images

This was the case until the end of January. However, since then, travel to and from these sun destinations has been restricted, with the government asking all Canadian airlines to suspend services to these locations until at least April 30th.

In addition, the following restrictions were imposed:

  • Limiting international flights to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal
  • Mandatory testing at the airport
  • Inbound travelers will need to quarantine at a hotel for three days, at their own expense, at an approved hotel
    • After receiving a negative test result, passengers will need to quarantine at home under increased surveillance and enforcement
    • Positive results will be quarantining in designated governmental spaces to ensure they are not carrying variants

Of course, while all of these policies are in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its more infectious variants, it’s also these same measures that have resulted in WestJet, and other airlines, moving to lower their expenditures by cutting jobs and unprofitable routes.

Westjet 737
Even though WestJet is now able to fly its new 737 MAX aircraft, travel restrictions are hampering demand. Photo: WestJet

Awaiting sector-specific funding

These job cuts are happening while airlines are engaged in serious discussions with the federal government for sector-specific assistance- something similar to the US CARES Act south of the border.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

While Air Canada’s CEO expressed a good deal of optimism at his February 12th earnings call that something was coming soon for the industry, two weeks have passed without any word from Ottawa on the matter.

What do you think about these pilot layoffs? Let us know in the comments.

Simple Flying approached WestJet for comment regarding the topic of new pilot layoffs. However, at the time of publication, no response was received.