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Air Canada says it will do what it can in event of WestJet strike

Air Canada has waded into labour issues at rival WestJet, promising to help get customers to their destination in the event of a strike at the airline.

WestJet made similar offer when Air Canada had labour problems in 2011

Air Canada says it is prepared to boost its capacity in the event of a strike at rival WestJet. (Air Canada)

Air Canada has waded into labour issues at rival WestJet, promising to help get customers to their destination in the event of a strike at the airline.

After eight months of negotiations, WestJet's main pilots union is calling for a strike vote that could theoretically lead to a job action by the middle of May at the earliest — just ahead of the busy summer travel season.

In a press release, Montreal-based Air Canada said "it is ready to adjust its schedules and capacity to limit disruptions for the traveling public and to ensure that customers get to their destinations in the event of a labour disruption," at its Calgary-based rival.

It's a repeat of the stunt that WestJet pulled on Air Canada back in 2011, when Air Canada was facing a looming strike of its own.

"We will be ready with extra flights in the event of a strike," WestJet said at the time, promising to add more flights and increase capacity as much as it could in the event of a strike at its much bigger, unionized rival.

For its part, WestJet management is downplaying the prospect of a strike this time, saying such a vote is a "common step" in negotiations. 

Toronto-Dominion Bank analyst Tim James agrees that a strike is unlikely. "Given the need for negotiating tactics," he said in an analyst note on Thursday, "we do not believe too much should be read into these comments at this time."

WestJet agreed late Thursday afternoon to 14 straight days of negotiations starting Friday, the Air Line Pilots Association said.

A 60-day federal conciliation period ends Friday, which marks the beginning of a 21-day cooling-off period, after which the pilots can legally strike.

with files from The Canadian Press

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