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A WestJet 737-700 lands at LAX (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

WestJet Temporary Halts Flights to Four Destinations

Major airlines continue to endure tremendous challenges from the ongoing COVID-19 calamity. WestJet – Canada’s second-largest carrier – has announced temporary flight suspensions for a number of routes in its extensive, domestic network, citing the progressively, strict travel restrictions – resulting in weak travel demand and low load factors – as the major rationale for the decision. 

The Calgary-based carrier expects to halt flight operations to St. Johns, NL; London, Ont.; Lloydminster and Medicine Hat, Alta., beginning on March 19 until June 24. Flights between Lloydminster and Calgary will end on March 19, while the airline’s operations from St.John to Halifax, NS and Medicine Hat to Calgary will cease on March 21. On March 22, flight services between London, Ont. and Toronto – one of the airline’s three primary hubs and its stronghold in Eastern Canada – will be suspended. 

“We have continued to operate in the face of uncertainty as domestic and international travel restrictions and quarantines have caused demand to plummet,” Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO said. “Unfortunately, with new and increasingly restrictive policies, we are left once again, with no other option than to suspend service to these communities.”

Earlier this week, the Canadian federal government extended entry restrictions until March 21 for U.S. travelers and April 21 for all other international travelers. Additionally, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) proclaimed that all citizens returning to Canada by land must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result taken in the United States within 72 hours of pre-arrival, or a positive test, taken 14 to 90 days prior to arrival.

Sims remarked, “Our ability to return to markets remains directly correlated to government policies and the prioritization of a domestic travel program, As we look ahead to contributing to the economic recovery of Canada, the relationship between testing and quarantine must evolve based on data and science.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s national government expanded the restrictions to soon require travelers entering Canada – through one of the four airports currently accepting international flights – to take a COVID-19 molecular test when they arrive in Canada, before exiting the airport. Travelers will need to take another toward the end of their 14-day quarantine period.

Flight Cuts For Warmer Destinations

The lastest flight operation suspensions come after the airline declared temporary flight suspensions for 14 destinations across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean – including The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic among others – following a request from the national government, in late-January. WestJet plans to continue suspending southbound operations from its key hubs and major focus cities until Apr. 30.

“The government asked, and we agreed,” Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO said, “While we know that air travel is responsible for less than two percent of cases since the start of the crisis, and even less today, we recognize the Government of Canada’s ask is a precautionary measure. We also note that the overwhelming majority of quarantine exemptions, well over 90 percent, in fact, are connected to land borders and not air travel. We have responded to their request and will suspend service to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean,” an acknowledgment portrayed by the airline’s subsequent decision to remove hundreds of flights from its already condensed schedule. 

The Airline’s Potential Comeback 

However, the airline’s reductions in flight operations due to the temporary route suspensions and the effects of COVID-19 seems to not hinder the airline from making some progress elsewhere. At the beginning of the year, WestJet expressed its intention to resume Boeing 737 MAX flights. Ultimately, the carrier returned its first Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service on a flight between Calgary and Vancouver on Jan. 21, firmly marking a new, amended commencement for the airline’s aircraft operations.

In regards to the special milestone, Captain David Colquhoun, WestJet Master Executive Council Chair, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said, “For nearly two years, ALPA has been working tirelessly with Transport Canada, international regulators, and airline management on reviewing the MAX and the revised pilot training requirements needed to safely return this aircraft to service. No one knows better than airline pilots what is needed to be adequately prepared and trained to manage the handling qualities of this renewed aircraft. Today, as we usher the safe return of the MAX in Canada, ALPA will continue to provide its expertise and voice of safety in future discussions.”

Evidently, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 catastrophe continue to takes their toll on WestJet and the connectivity in its route network. However, looking on the horizon, despite the lengthy, expanded travel restrictions, WestJet has a fleet of brand new Boeing 737 MAXs and modern Boeing 787 Dreamliners. If the airline continues to make advancements in its other endeavors, WestJet will be positioned to promptly resume flight operations and reconnect its destinations to capture as much of the remaining market as possible.

Benjamin Pham
Benjamin Pham
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