Calgary

WestJet cuts 20 per cent of flights in March, calls for reopening timeline

WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it has cancelled 20 per cent of its flights in March, extending schedule cuts from February amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty that continue to drain demand.

February schedule cuts extended amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, uncertainty

A WestJet flight from Calgary to Vancouver, which is the first commercial flight of the Boeing 737 Max in Canada since the aircraft was cleared to fly again in Canadian airspace, lifts off in Calgary on Jan. 21, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

WestJet Airlines Ltd. has cancelled 20 per cent of its flights in March, extending schedule cuts from February amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty that continue to drain demand.

Interim CEO Harry Taylor says travel advisories and testing requirements were meant to be temporary, but that after two years the industry crisis has come to a head.

"It is disappointing that Canada remains stagnant in its approach and continues to make travel inaccessible and punitive for Canadians and inbound tourists," he said Monday in a release.

WestJet is calling for periodic testing upon arrival only, rather than mandatory molecular testing before takeoff and after landing for fully vaccinated international passengers.

The Calgary-based company also demanded an end to quarantines for travellers awaiting results when they return from abroad.

Canada remains the only G7 country to require pre-departure and on-arrival molecular testing, Taylor noted, and said the federal government must outline a flight path for travel and tourism recovery.

Thousands of flights cancelled since November

Since early November, WestJet and budget subsidiary Swoop have cancelled 11,285 trips for March, or 48 per cent. Air Canada has scrapped 16,617 or 41 per cent since mid-October, according to flight data firm Cirium.

More cuts may be en route across airlines, as passengers hold off on ticket purchases until closer to the departure date to ensure pandemic measures don't mar their travel plans.

If the bookings ultimately come through, the flight schedule may hold steady, but if they don't then even fewer planes will leave the tarmac than currently slated.

"Nowadays many more people are making even their leisure travel decisions at the last minute, because the world is a very fluid place right now and people are finding it difficult to plan months in advance with changing restrictions and changing rules," said David Huttner, a London-based aviation expert.

"Maybe I'd rather drive in my own car by myself — travel habits have changed too, especially on shorter flights."

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