Sims: WestJet Faces "Toughest Of All Days" As 3,333 Permanent Layoffs Announced

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Ed Sims

The damage incurred from travel restrictions and collapsed air travel demand is weighing heavily on WestJet, as CEO Ed Sims announce today organizational changes -- including the permanent dismissal of 3,333 employees – in the hopes of keeping the airline viable in the face of the continuing pandemic.

Calling today's announcement "the toughest of all these difficult days," Sims detailed changed that will see WestJet:

  • consolidate call centre activity in Alberta
  • contract out airport operations in all domestic airports outside of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto
  • strategically restructure its office and management staff, which involves permanently laying off 3,333 WestJet staff

 

"Throughout the course of the biggest crisis in the history of aviation, WestJet has made many difficult, but essential, decisions to future-proof our business," said Sims in a video address. 

"Today's announcement regarding these strategic but unavoidable changes will allow us to provide security to our remaining 10,000 WestJetters, and to carry on the work of transforming our business." 

Overall, WestJet's scheduled operations have been reduced by more than 90% year-over-year. The airline suspended its international operations 22MAR amid widespread shutdowns across the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but continued to operate service to all 38 year-round domestic airports. 

Earlier this month WS announced plans to double its flights staring JUL, but capacity would still be down 76% from its level of service in JUL 2019.

Sims pointed out that WS has remained self-sufficient throughout the crisis, cutting costs by more than 60%. WestJet implemented a series of cost-cutting measures including releasing a majority of outside contractors, instituting a hiring freeze, stopping all non-essential travel and training, suspending any internal role movements and salary adjustments, cutting executive, vice-president and director salaries and pausing more than 75% of its capital projects.

Despite these efforts, the damage incurred from weakened demand is being compounded by a patchwork of provincial and federal travel advisories, constraints on non-essential travel both globally and domestically, and cost challenges facing WestJet's airport and air navigation partners.

"I watch the news with hope regarding a vaccine and I'm aware that while a solution is being worked on, the temporary solution is that which we have already implemented: a hygienic environment from start to finish while implementing a new, lower touch business model so that our guests and indeed all travellers can rebuild their confidence in flying," Sims said, surmising that "the effects of the pandemic will be with us for a long time."

Sims said WestJet will seek out preferential employment opportunities for as many of the airport roles as possible.

"Reducing WestJet roles has always been a last resort. If there were other viable options avail to us, we would be taking them," Sims said.

Looking to the future and the changed face of air travel, Sims said WestJet is committed to building a guest experience that will incorporate new technologies to provide a touch-free experience at airports, enhance response times at contact centres and reduce queues.

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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