On Tuesday, travel agents and WestJet passengers received a notice from the airline after the pilots from Canada’s second-largest airline issued a 72-hour strike notice.
This looming disruption comes ahead of the May long weekend and has travel agents like Claire Newell crossing their fingers and toes that an agreement is made before the Friday morning deadline.
Newell is the president of Travel Best Bets and says a strike will cause a domino effect, and “it’s going to be pandemonium.”
In her experience, Canadian airline strikes are a rare event, so she is pleasantly surprised that WestJet has provided advice and information readily available at travel agents’ fingertips.
“WestJet has planned for this, and they’re making it as easy as possible given the unfortunate situation,” she said.
Here is what you should expect if you have booked an upcoming flight with WestJet, according to Newell.
Changes to upcoming flights
Newell admits “it is a real-time of uncertainty,” not only for the airline and the pilots but for all of the customers who have tickets with WestJet.
“No one knows for sure whether or not the airline will go on strike. It literally is the flip of a coin,” she said. “I have seen in the past with airlines that they settle at the eleventh hour.”
However, when WestJet released its statement, Newell said travel agents and passengers have two options if they’ve booked an imminent flight.
Folks with WestJet flights booked from May 16 to 21 will be able to change their flight dates without a fee or have a choice to cancel for a full refund.
Newell says it’s up to travellers if they are flexible enough to “wait and see.” However, the travel expert said, “Personally, I would make the change knowing that my trip was going to happen on another airline.”
For travellers that do cancel and search for a new flight, Newell warns they may be paying more than initially expected if they are rebooking to fly this long weekend.
“[It will be] very expensive to book something within one week. So we’ll have to see more airlines come to the table for that.”
If your flight is taking off after May 21, Newell added the airline might add future dates to cancel or rebook.
“They’re looking at just the most imminent ppl that are leaving,” she said.
There have been some travellers that have recently been able to find cheaper flights, Newell said. So you might be in luck!
“They were booked for the WestJet vacations package, and there’s some last-minute space on Air Canada vacation, so they’re switching over and saving a considerable amount of money,” she recalled.
However, depending on the route, it may be especially hard to even find a flight out.
“It really depends on what province you’re in and how many other carriers are doing the routes that you’re looking at flying,” Newell explained.
Unfortunately, in some cases, she adds people may have booked a direct flight with WestJet but may be forced to rebook a flight with a different carrier with a connection or two.
Airport preparing for weekend
Alyssa Smith is the communications manager at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and said they are closely monitoring the strike.
She said YVR was already expecting a busy long weekend, “So our operation was already planning to be prepared for that increase of travellers.”
However, the possible WestJet strike “adds an extra layer of importance.”
“Here at YVR, we’ll do our best to provide information, but we’re really not able to support passengers with WestJet beyond just sharing information,” she warned.
WestJet managing impacts on travellers
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced the strike notice on Monday evening and said that it plans to begin the strike at 3 am ET on Friday, May 19.
“The decision to issue a lockout notice in response to the actions taken by the union today was not one that was made lightly, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group CEO, in a statement.
Travellers should keep an eye on their emails, as that’s where WestJet or Swoop’ll notify them of any changes to their flight itinerary.