TORONTO — WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbrocht says a huge gap remains between the airline’s offer to pilots and the union’s counter-offer for a new contract as job action looms.
Round-the-clock talks between WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association are intensifying as the clock ticks down towards Friday’s strike deadline.
About 1,800 pilots at the carrier and its Swoop subsidiary are set to walk off the job as of 3 a.m. Friday after the union issued a strike notice Monday night.
The CEO says the standoff leaves thousands of travelers with travel plans beyond the May long weekend and beyond hanging in the balance – and has already affected bookings.
With more than 16,700 flights scheduled for this month, WestJet carries about a third of Canada’s domestic market, while Air Canada has about half.
Bernard Leavell, who heads the pilots’ union WestJet, says pay, scheduling and job security are key points.
“The gap is still massive,” von Hoensbrocht said of the offers during a video call from a hotel in Richmond Hill, Ont., the bargaining site.
The CEO said there has been a “slowdown” in bookings as concerns over a possible strike increased.
“It’s painful,” he said, adding that capacity has not yet returned to 2019 levels at most Canadian airlines.
“So there are limited options for passengers to get away – which, by the way, also shows that in case of disruption, the Canadian public would suffer massive losses,” he said, noting that WestJet is the main national carrier in Western For some communities in Canada.
The CEO said that in response to the strike notice, WestJet issued a lockout notice shortly before midnight on Monday to maintain “control” of its planes.
“If a strike comes on short notice at a point where we don’t expect it, we could strand an airplane somewhere in the Caribbean – I don’t know where,” he said. “Then we’re in trouble.”
The CEO as well as WestJet’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer have all descended upon a hotel in the Greater Toronto Area to try to strike a deal with the union.
In the event of a delay or cancellation, customers will be “refunded or re-accommodated,” the airline said on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 16, 2023.
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Chris Reynolds, The Canadian Press