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B.C. travellers up in the air, changing plans as WestJet strike looms

Pilots at WestJet and Swoop could walk off the job Friday

Many British Columbians are on edge as looming job action at WestJet threatens to put a wrench into their travel plans.

Some travellers at Victoria International Airport said they have changed their plans as more than 1,800 pilots at WestJet and its Swoop subsidiary are poised to potentially walk off the job as of midnight tonight.

Mila Main flew from Victoria International Airport to Las Vegas on Wednesday (May 17). She has booked a second flight back on Southwest Airlines after speaking with her friend, who is a WestJet pilot.

“He said there’s a good chance they’re not going to settle before we get home,” Main said. “The second flight is refundable but going to pay double on the way home if they strike. It’s a little stressful so we did this as a precaution. A lot of people are going to be stranded.”

Brian Kennedy and Lee Prouten flew on a WestJet flight from Victoria International Airport to Regina Wednesday and said they were nervous this week.

“We thought we might get stuck which would be an expensive proposition for us,” Prouten said. “We tried to cancel, but we got a cheap rate with no cancellation. We were sweating it. The other consideration for me was that it would be crowded on the plane because I suspected that they would be amalgamating people.”

“We have been on the edge of our seats,” Kennedy added.

In recognition of that uncertainty, the airline is offering refunds to passengers who cancel flights scheduled until May 21, and fee-free changes to bookings within the same period.

The union says the issues at stake revolve around better job protection, wages, and work schedules, which resulted in some 340 pilots leaving the airline in search of better job opportunities.

In a tweet, WestJest CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech mentions that: “the union maintains unreasonable expectations we see no alternative than to lock them out.”

The carrier argues that its pilots are among the best paid in the nation, but that a contract on par with those recently settled by some U.S. pilot unions would be financially illogical, putting the company’s future in jeopardy.

The dispute is proving to be a gut-wrenching experience for Shoshana Sahota.

“It’s my daughter’s first time flying by herself and I had felt secure about it because I knew she was gonna go there and come back and there was no in-between,” said Sahota, after helping her daughter check in for a flight out of the Comox Airport on Tuesday (May 16). “She’s dyslexic and she can’t read or maneuver airports. She can’t go through another airport, get on a plane, and come back.”

For others, the uncertainty of a strike and its possible extension is a source of anxiety.

“It is a bit stressful because my booking has already been changed once due to their scheduling changes,” said WestJet passenger Ken Bryla. “This would be the second time I’ve had to re-book with WestJet.

“They’re not guaranteeing me that they’re not going to charge me for those re-bookings. They may charge the difference in fare because the fare has gone up since I booked the flight.”

Spokesperson for Comox Airport Erin Neely highlights that not all WestJet flights will be affected in the eventuality of a strike.

“As always, we recommend that passengers check with their airlines for flight status,” said Neely. “(It is important to) remind those travelling on WestJet Encore and WestJet Link that these carriers are not part of the current negotiations.”

READ MORE: WestJet CEO, pilots’ union head clash over compensation as strike looms

READ MORE: WestJet customers holding their breath as strike notice jeopardizes travel plans


@brendanmayer
brendan.mayer@blackpress.ca

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