COVID-19: Calgary-based airline WestJet laying off half its employees

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      As the air travel industry continues to be severely impacted by changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an airline based in Western Canada announced mass layoffs of its employees in addition to further cost-cutting measures.

      Due to a severe drop in demand, WestJet announced today (March 24) that 6,900 of its 14,000 employees are being laid off, which include early retirements, and both voluntary and involuntary leaves, and span time periods from three months to permanently.

      An approximate 90 percent of those departures are voluntary.

      The Calgary-based company’s remaining workforce consists of 7,100 employees.

      Other employees have opted for unpaid leave of absence, reduced work hours, or reduced pay.

      While the airline’s executive team took a 50 percent pay cut, vice-presidents and directors took a 25 percent cut.

      Previously cost-cutting measures included releasing over 80 percent of its contract workers, freezing hiring, suspending all internal role movement and salary adjustments, suspending over 75 percent of capital projects, asking suppliers for reductions or delays in payments, and halting all non-essential travel and training.

      CEO and president Ed Sims stated that two-thirds of fleet (120 aircraft) have been grounded and only fly within Canada now, which remains subject to change.

      WestJet previously had over 100 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe.

      Last week, Air Canada announced that it was temporarily laying off 5,100 flight attendants, which will take effect on April 30.

      Meanwhile, Air Canada announced on March 23 that, in collaboration with the federal government, it will operate six special flights from Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador; and Barcelona, Spain, to Toronto and Montreal to help stranded Canadians return home. 

      The airline had previously operated three special flights from Morocco to Montreal.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook