WestJet Airlines Ltd. will suspend operations in another four cities amid a prolonged slump in demand for air travel in the pandemic.
The Calgary-based airline said it will temporarily halt operations between March 19 and June 24 in four domestic cities: St. John’s, London, Ont., Lloydminster and Medicine Hat, Alta.
Additionally, flights will be suspended between St. John’s and Halifax; London and Toronto; and WestJet Link flights between Calgary and Lloydminster; and Calgary and Medicine Hat.
WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline, has cut more than 90 per cent of its seat capacity, compared with a year ago, and laid off about half of its work force of 12,000. The carrier recently suspended flights to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, as part of an agreement Canadian airlines made with the federal government, which has imposed stricter travel rules intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The new rules include negative COVID-19 tests before boarding a flight home, tests on arrival, and hotel quarantines. Canada’s borders have been closed to most visitors since March, and the government has repeatedly told people not to travel.
Leisure carriers Sunwing Airlines and Air Transat have suspended normal operations, and Porter Airlines has been grounded since March. Air Canada has also made deep cuts to its international and domestic routes.
Ed Sims, WestJet’s chief executive officer, said in a statement on Thursday the new travel restrictions and quarantines have caused seat sales to plummet further and increased the uncertainty faced by the carrier. “Our ability to return to markets remains directly correlated to government policies and the prioritization of a domestic travel program,” Mr. Sims said.
The federal government is expected to announce details soon of aid packages for Canada’s aviation sector. The airlines have complained for months their foreign rivals have been propped up by billions of dollars in government loans and grants while Canada’s carriers have been left waiting.
The government has said any aid will require airlines refund customers’ money for flights cancelled in the pandemic, protect aviation jobs and retain and restore regional routes.
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