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WestJet cancels tons of flights and calls out Canadian travel restrictions

WestJet, Canada's second-largest airline, is calling out the federal government this week over continued COVID-19 advisories and measures that are impacting the aviation sector and customers' freedom to travel.

The Calgary-based carrier announced on Monday that it would have to continue slashing flights by 20 per cent, consolidating its usual route schedule through the end of March due to "ongoing uncertainty and barriers facing travel."

"Travel advisories, restrictions and testing requirements were meant to be temporary, yet our industry has now reached an impasse," the company's president and CEO Harry Taylor said in a new release that demands Ottawa ease regulations such as duplicative testing for asymptomatic fully vaccinated travellers, quarantine for passengers awaiting results of arrivals testing, and more.

He also pointed out that other countries have been easing such measures "sensibly" based on the current COVID-19 situation and the fact that travel and tourism are integral to the economy.

"Canada remains the only country among the G7 nations to still require mandatory pre-departure and on-arrival PCR testing...  air travel continues to be the most tested, yet most restricted consumer activity in Canada," he continued.

"It is disappointing that Canada remains stagnant in its approach and continues to make travel inaccessible and punitive for Canadians and inbound tourists."

Like all airlines, WestJet has had to drastically reduce flight frequency and cut its list of destinations over the course of the health crisis due to a decrease in business thanks to lockdowns, strong recommendations against non-essential travel and virus fears.

Stakeholders have long been asking for Ottawa to at least reconsider its recommendation against international travel, as well as its requirement for a negative molecular COVID-19 test result from all incoming passengers, which can cost hundreds of dollars and is difficult to access in many places.

The U.S. has for some time only required a negative rapid antigen test result for entry south of the border, which on top of being far cheaper and easier to get than a PCR test, has a far faster turnaround time of just minutes.

And though Canada did scrap the testing requirement for those embarking on short trips of 72 hours or less in fall 2021, that change lasted only a few weeks before it was switched back again.

WestJet has long taken issue with Canada's protocols surrounding travel, saying in another memo back in December that the federal government's move to issue a blanket travel advisory — which is still in effect — "is not based on science and data and significantly undermines aviation's proven safety record in response to COVID-19."

"International travel standards and policies should be harmonized, yet Canada's travel measures remain firmly out of step with border policies enacted across the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States," Taylor wrote at the time.

"This advisory contradicts WHO's guidance that states blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of COVID-19 and adversely affect lives and livelihoods."

According to flight data firm Cirium via the CBC, since November, WestJet and its budget arm Swoop have had to ground a whopping 11,285 trips for March, equalling 48 per cent of their scheduled flights.

Air Canada, meanwhile, had to cut even more: 16,617, or 41 per cent, since mid-October.

Lead photo by

Mackenzie Cole

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