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Mar 17, 2020

WestJet to suspend international flights as feds tighten border

WestJet warns of 'major' layoffs as it suspends international flights

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WestJet Airlines Ltd. announced late Monday it will soon shift to "rescue and repatriation" mode as it prepares to suspend its non-domestic operations as a result of the federal government's historic announcement that Canada will soon restrict entry into the country.

According to a statement from Chief Executive Officer Ed Sims, WestJet will halt all of its scheduled international and transborder flights for 30 days as of Mar. 22 at 11:59 p.m. MT.

"After that, we will be operating rescue and repatriation flights in partnership with the Canadian government," Sims said.

The airline will also suspend ticket sales for outbound international trips as Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. MT. In the meantime, Sims said WestJet is lowering ticket prices for all remaining flights into Canada before the service suspension.

WestJet's announcement came the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in an address to Canadians that as of Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET, the federal government will shut entry into the country by air for non-Canadian citizens and permanent residents. American citizens are being exempted from the rule.

Additionally, the government said that as of Wednesday, it plans to steer inbound international flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, and Calgary International Airport.

"While this is a difficult time, we now have the responsibility as a Canadian airline to bring our citizens home," Sims said.

With the significant reduction in capacity, WestJet’s executive vice-president of people and culture warned of widespread layoffs.

“There will be major reductions in our workforce across all of the functions,” said Mark Porter in a separate press release. “And as such, we will have no choice but to reduce the number of WestJetters.”

The carrier did not disclose how many staff will be affected, but has previously stated a 50 per cent workforce reduction is one of several scenarios being contemplated.

Porter also revealed WestJet is cutting its executive leadership team’s pay by 20 per cent, and its vice-presidents and directors’ pay by 10 per cent, effective immediately.