A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday February 3, 2014. The proposed acquisition of WestJet Airlines by Onex Corp. moved a step closer to completion after Canada’s transportation regulator determined the airline will continue to meet Canadian ownership and control requirements. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday February 3, 2014. The proposed acquisition of WestJet Airlines by Onex Corp. moved a step closer to completion after Canada’s transportation regulator determined the airline will continue to meet Canadian ownership and control requirements. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

WestJet flight attendants anticipate sweeping layoffs due to COVID-19

Union expecting layoffs of more than 50% of its staff

The union representing WestJet flight attendants is expecting layoffs of more than 50 per cent of its staff as the number of flight cancellations continues to mount amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

An internal memo sent to union officials and obtained by The Canadian Press says that travellers are rebooking en masse and “our airline’s well-being has become grave overnight.”

“As our crew members face the global health situation head on, we are now seeing members booking off in such massive numbers that the airline operations are quickly becoming unsustainable,” the union email reads.

Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE 4070 — which represents cabin crews at WestJet and its budget subsidiary Swoop — said that daily conversations with senior management alerted him to the increasingly ”severe” situation.

“Basically all new bookings are drying up,” he said. “It’s literally changing by the hour.”

As recently as Wednesday morning, job reductions of only 12 per cent seemed likely, he said, a number that matches WestJet’s recent forecasts.

Since then, however, the U.S. has implemented a ban on most travel from Europe; business trips, large gatherings and daily commutes have dropped off; and institutions from the National Hockey League to Broadway have suspended their seasons.

ALSO READ: Man arrested after making fake coronavirus claim on Westjet flight leaving Toronto

Rauenbusch said one flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles this morning that had booked 150 passengers took off with just 12 on board.

He said the full impact of the novel coronavirus epidemic is just starting to sink in, as flight cancellations increase and consumers turn away from airports to make a run on toilet paper.

“We’ve tried to communicate the gravity of the situation,” he said. “I’m not sure reality has set in yet.”

WestJet did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday the government plans to restrict the airports that can accept international flights, so people arriving on them can be more closely screened. The list of airports that will be included has not been settled yet, he said.

WestJet company said Wednesday that flight reductions may hit its domestic, transatlantic and vacation destinations as well as trips to the U.S.

Other cost reduction efforts introduced this week include a company-wide hiring freeze and voluntary leave options.

ALSO READ: Canada’s largest airlines waiving fees to change flights because of coronavirus

Flight attendants at Air Canada said no word had come down about job reductions.

“At the moment, we’re not aware of layoffs or anything like that,” said Canadian Union of Public Employees spokesman Hugh Pouliot.

Canada’s largest airline has seen its stock price plunge by more than half over the past two months. It has suspended flights to mainland China and Italy and cut back routes to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul as travel fears spread with the new virus.

In response to the travel bans and cancellations, Delta Air Lines said Friday it will cut passenger-carrying capacity by 40 per cent, the biggest reduction in the carrier’s 91-year history.

Delta, which is talking with the White House and Congress about potential relief, plans to halt all flights to continental Europe for at least 30 days and ground up to 300 aircraft to save cash.

Recent booking fee waivers by Air Canada and WestJet have failed to stem the tide of cancellations or encourage new bookings as countries impose border controls and domestic quarantines.

Transat AT Inc., which owns Air Transat — and which Air Canada bought in a deal awaiting regulatory approval — has seen daily bookings plunge by 50 per cent year over year this month, executives said Thursday.

“Things are moving super-fast at this point,” Julie Roberts, who heads CUPE’s airline division of 15,000 flight attendants, said in an email Friday.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Myrna Norman credits social activity for her success fighting dementia. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge woman writes inspirational book documenting living with dementia

Myrna Norman has been an active community advocate for de-stigmatizing the debilitating disease

Betty Dubé with her daughters, campaigned for Maple Ridge mayor and was elected in 1974. (Maple Ridge Museum)
LOOKING BACK: Women involved in Maple Ridge politics for decades

A look at local women in public office as the U.S. inaugurates its first female vice president

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Jan. 24

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Most Read