WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it will lay off 3,333 employees as part of a major restructuring amid the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the travel industry.
The company plans to consolidate call centre activity in Alberta, restructure its office and management staff and contract out operations at all but four of the 38 Canadian airports where it operates, WestJet said in a release on June 24.
“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 CEO Ed Sims, calling the changes “unavoidable.”
The pandemic has seen the airline suspend most of its schedule—including all international trips—in late March.
The company says a priority in selecting airport partners will be preferential hiring interviews for some of the 2,300 WestJet airport workers now facing layoffs.
WestJet, which went private after Toronto-based Onex Corp. bought the publicly traded company in December, had some 14,000 workers on its payroll just before the pandemic struck, but now has about 4,500 active employees.
Airline revenue streams have shrunk to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, with fleets parked and border shutdowns ongoing even as domestic travel demand gradually starts to pick up.
Last week fewer than 7,500 passengers arrived at Canadian airports from the U.S., down more than 98 percent from a year earlier, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
International passenger numbers were down 95 percent compared to a year earlier, the agency said Wednesday.
Chief executives from 27 Canadian companies in sectors ranging from aviation to banking and telecommunications have called for a “measured” reopening of the skies that would see travel resume across all provinces and between select countries.
Manitoba and the Maritime provinces continue to restrict interprovincial travel, though the four Atlantic provinces announced plans Wednesday to create a “bubble” that allows residents to travel within region without a 14-day isolation period.
Travellers arriving in Canada from abroad must self-isolate for two weeks.
Last week, Trudeau extended a ban on non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. until at least July 21.
The announcement came as European Union countries began to reopen their borders to EU and some non-EU members.
By Christopher Reynolds