The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Westjet jettisons from COVID-19 talks


Calgary-based airline Westjet has jettisoned from COVID19 compensati­on talks with the federal government.

Following months of negotiatio­ns over pandemic relief for the carrier that’s been hit hard by the collapse in air travel, Westjet said Tuesday it’s officially broken off talks with Ottawa.

In a statement, the airline said it wants to shift atten

tion to the reopening of air activity as pandemic conditions improve in Canada.

“The Westjet Group and the Government of Canada have had constructi­ve discussion­s over the last several months,” the statement said.

“Given encouragin­g vaccinatio­n rates across the country, both parties have mutually agreed to shift focus from these negotiatio­ns, and

away from taxpayer-funded support, to leading the safe restart of the travel and tourism sector.”

That move came a day after the federal government announced it would reopen the country’s borders to fully vaccinated, non-essential travellers from the U.S. on

Aug. 9, and for all other internatio­nal visitors Sept. 7.

But uncertaint­y remains for the full resumption of travel between Canada and the U.S. after Washington refused to follow suit until at least Aug. 21.

Compensati­on talks had linked financial aid for beleaguere­d carriers to their willingnes­s to refund passengers’ airfare.

Westjet said the company remains “open to resuming financial support discussion­s in the future.”

Last April, the Liberal government threw carrier Transat A.T. Inc. a lifeline in the form of a loan of up to $700 million.

That aid package came two weeks after it agreed to loan Air Canada as much as $5.9 billion to help it navigate the pandemic.

The pandemic’s effect has reduced Westjet’s pre-coVID-19 workforce of 14,000 to 4,900, with 5,000 of those permanentl­y laid off.

Spokeswoma­n Morgan Bell said the carrier is currently operating 300 flights a day when it would normally be flying 700 at this time of year.

“We’ve been seeing signs of positive recovery . . . every day we’re working to recall employees,” she said.

But on Tuesday, she said the carrier is watching closely for the possibilit­y of a full-blown fourth wave of COVID-19 in the U.S.

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