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Update: WestJet, pilots reach last-minute deal as strike averted

WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association announced a tentative agreement to avoid a strike early Friday morning. The airline has started ramping up operations, and warns a full resumption of operations will take time. WestJet encourages travellers to continue to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport.

Pilots at WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline, issued a 72-hour strike notice on Monday. The Calgary-based company responded with a notice that it plans to lock out the employees on Friday.

The union says it’s seeking better pay, and for pilots at WestJet’s discount subsidiary, Swoop, to be paid the same as WestJet crews. According to the union, 240 pilots quit WestJet last year for better jobs elsewhere, including in the United States.

The labour dispute could disrupt travel plans for thousands of travellers on the long weekend and beyond. Here’s what you need to know, as both sides continue to negotiate ahead of the deadline.

What will happen to my flight if WestJet goes on strike?

The strike would affect flights with WestJet and Swoop starting at 5 a.m. ET on Friday. Flight disruptions began as early as Thursday as the airline began cancelling flights and parking planes, grounding the majority of its Boeing 737 and 787 fleet. The company’s smaller WestJet Encore and Link flights will continue, however, because those pilots are under a different collective agreement.

WestJet said it will prepare to operate on a reduced schedule, and provide “flexible” flight change and cancellation arrangements. WestJet customers can reach out to customer service to inquire about contingency plans for flights cancelled or delayed because of the job action.

Which WestJet flights are cancelled?

Early on Thursday morning, WestJet cancellations for the day include 27 departing Calgary, 11 from Edmonton and four from Vancouver. Fifteen flights are cancelled at Toronto, according to the airports’ respective websites.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, WestJet cancelled 103 flights just after 9 a.m. ET on Thursday.

For flights not cancelled yet, the airline says it is offering certain changes “for your peace of mind” for travel until May 21, such as a $0 one-time fee waiver for changes or cancellations, but differences in fares might apply.

Will my cancelled WestJet flight be refunded?

Customers whose flights are cancelled are entitled to a refund or rebooking on another airline, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency. If the itinerary includes an international leg, travellers might be due compensation in the form of money, food or accommodation.

If you’ve purchased travel insurance, refunds will depend on which insurer you use and when you bought your ticket. Manulife says passengers flying with WestJet will only be eligible for trip cancellation or interruption coverage if they purchased their policy before April 18, which is when WestJet pilots voted in favour of a strike mandate. Providers such as Allianz and Tugo say the strike became a “known event” on May 15.

Will travel insurance save you if there’s a WestJet strike? It depends

Will Swoop be affected by the WestJet strike?

ALPA represents pilots at WestJet and Swoop, and the strike would affect both airlines as of Friday.

Are WestJet Encore and Sunwing going on strike?

Despite being owned by the airline, WestJet Encore and Sunwing flights will not be affected by the strike, as their pilots are not subject to the current collective bargaining.

Does the strike affect other airlines like Flair and Air Canada?

Flair Airlines said in a statement that it’s ready to add flights to its schedule to help WestJet customers.

Air Canada customers are unaffected by the WestJet strike, but talks between the airline and the union that represents its 4,500-plus pilots are expected to begin in the summer.

What is a lockout notice and how is it different from a strike?

In response to the Air Line Pilots Association’s strike notice, WestJet has issued a lockout notice.

A lockout notice is an employer’s equivalent of a strike, a tool – or job action – used to put pressure on a union during negotiations in hopes of pushing through an agreement. It means closing down a workplace, and suspending employment and pay during bargaining.

In a statement, WestJet said it regretted the lockout notice, but it needs to minimize the risk of stranding passengers, crews and planes.

With reports from Eric Atkins

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