WestJet promises full refunds on flights cancelled by pilot strike

MONTREAL — WestJet Airlines is trying to assuage passenger anxiety by promising to provide full refunds if flights are cancelled because of a possible pilots strike.

In response to passenger tweets expressing concerns about their upcoming vacations, the Calgary-based airline said it will provide refunds in the original form of payment.

“We understand your concern around being affected with a work stoppage,” it tweeted in response to one passenger.

“We remain confident that we will come to an agreement. In the meantime, it is business as usual.”

However, a passenger said that simply offering a refund may not resolve the traveller’s problem because tickets purchased just before flights typically cost more.

“Exactly, what do we do with refunded money when you are stuck in Cancun for example?,” tweeted another passenger. “I think this is a serious situation that affects a lot of people. The union and the pilots need to come to a solution immediately.”

Added another: “I’m booked for the middle of June. Fingers crossed.”

Air Canada has capitalized on its rival’s situation by formally announcing Thursday that it is expanding capacity on key transcontinental routes in response to the strike mandate at its large domestic rival.

WestJet pilots voted 91 per cent in favour of strike action, but committed to not disrupt passenger travel plans over the Victoria Day long weekend as a goodwill gesture.

Pilots will be in a legal position to commence job action on May 19, but now saw they won’t strike before May 22.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 1,500 WestJet pilots, says negotiations will continue next week in Halifax and it is committed to staying there for as long as it takes to get a first collective agreement done.

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline is seeing quite a bit of concern from anxious guests, and “as a result are seeing some softening of our bookings,” she wrote in an email.

Analyst Chris Murray of AltaCorp Capital said he expects the pilots are just the first of several labour conflicts that will unfold over the coming years.

“We are coming to the opinion that management may be outclassed in dealing with one of the most sophisticated unions in the industry, which also opens up concerns about how an agreement translates to other employees and what this does to an increasingly thinner cost advantage,” he wrote in a report.

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