Canada Day Flight Fiasco: WestJet Labor Strike Paralyzes Travel Plans for Thousands

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In a sudden and surprising turn of events, the second largest airline in the northern nation of Canada, popularly known as WestJet, found itself in a sobering predicament caused by an unexpected strike by its plane mechanics over the Canada Day long weekend. This sudden work stopove, a direct effect of a labor dispute, led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights on Sunday, disrupting the travel plans of nearly 110,000 passengers. The consequences were dire enough to instigate the airline to seek intervention from the federal government.

A count of about 680 crucial workers, responsible for daily inspections and repairs— both central to the airline’s operations— abandoned their duties Friday evening. This happened in spite of a directive for binding arbitration from the labor minister which should have prevented such an action.

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With patience wearing thin, WestJet Airlines President Diederik Pen made an earnest appeal in a statement released on Sunday. “WestJet is in receipt of a binding arbitration order and awaits urgent clarity from the government that a strike and arbitration cannot exist simultaneously; this is something they have committed to address and like all Canadians we are waiting,” he said.

With the travel chaos escalating since Thursday, WestJet has been compelled to cancel 829 flights that were to fly before the end of Monday — turning what should have been the busiest travel weekend of the season into a major fiasco.

The brunt of the chaos was felt most on Sunday, with a major chunk of trips being cancelled as WestJet dramatically scaled down its 180-plane fleet to only 32 functional aircraft. This put the airline in a bleak spot, topping the global list for cancellations among other major airlines over this tumultuous weekend.

Standing amid this turbulent storm was traveler Trevor Temple-Murray, who, along with thousands of others, was forced to scramble and rebook after their flights were scrapped with barely a day’s notice. Standing in the parking lot of Victoria, British Columbia airport with his wife and 2-year-old son in the car, they were desperate to secure a flight to Calgary, after their 6:05 p.m. flight met the ill-fate that befell many others.

In addition to domestic passengers, overseas travelers were also impacted. Spanish exchange student Marina Cebrian, who should have been at home as of seven hours prior, now won’t return to her family until Tuesday after enduring three flight cancellations.

The Airplane Mechanics Fraternal Association and WestJet stand at loggerheads, each accusing the other of refusing to negotiate in good faith. However, the union’s preference remains for a negotiated deal over an arbitrator’s decision while WestJet maintains that it has offered a generous 12.5% wage hike in the first year of the contract and a substantial compounded wage increase of 23.5% to cover the remaining duration of the 5 1/2-year term.