As the clock is ticking towards a strike, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech and pilots themselves agree on one thing: there is a "massive gap" between the airline and its pilots' demands.
Late 15MAY, the Airline Pilots Association International (ALPA), which represents 1,850 WestJet and Swoop pilots, issued a 72-hour strike notice, meaning that job action could begin as early as the wee hours of Friday, 19MAY.
CTV News reports that negotiations between WestJet and ALPA continue to "intensify" as that deadline approaches, with WestJet's top executives, including CEO, COO, and CFO all reportedly holed up in a hotel within the Greater Toronto Area to work out a deal with the union.
"The gap is still massive," von Hoensbroech admitted of the contract proposals between the two parties.
As reported by Open Jaw, ALPA members continue to push for a “North American / industry-standard contract,” which would bring wages at WestJet in line with other airlines in North America, particularly those in the U.S., something the airline has steadfastly said it could not deliver.
And the Calgary Herald reports Tim Perry, president of ALPA Canada, echoing WestJet's CEO's statement that the parties remain far apart. “Nothing that the company has put forward so far has would come even remotely close to ratifying.”
In response to ALPA's strike notice, WestJet issued its own lockout notice late 15MAY, which the company has defended as not so much a retaliation against pilots for their strike notice, but a measure to help affected pax.
WestJet's CEO noted that since air capacity has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, there are limited options for passengers in an event of a strike. "If a strike hits us on short notice at a point where we don't expect it, we may strand an airplane somewhere in the Caribbean -- in I don't know where," he said. "Then we are in trouble."
A lockout "was the only available option to ensure we can manage flight disruptions in a manner that allows us to proactively communicate changes to our schedule and provide advance notice of travel impacts to our guests," WestJet said in a 16MAY statement.
When it issued its own lockout notice, the airline simultaneously announced flexible cancellation, rebooking and refund policies for booked passengers, with some pax booked on or after Friday already choosing to fly with other carriers.
According to von Hoensbroech, the strike notice has also affected bookings. As customers are growing worried of a possible strike, bookings have been "softening" in tandem, the CEO said.
Nonetheless, in its 16MAY statement, the airline remains optimistic: "We continue to make progress at the bargaining table and remain confident that with a commitment from both parties, we can reach an agreement before labour action is taken and avoid disrupting the travel of our valued guests."