WestJet Adds Frequencies, International Travel For July

Credit: Rob Finlayson

WestJet’s revamped July scheduled doubles its June timetable and adds international flying for the first time since late March.

The new schedule has service to 45 destinations, including Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles International, Orlando, New York-LaGuardia in the U.S. and Cancun, Mexico. The airline, which did not eliminate any Canadian cities as it scaled back to meet reduced demand triggered by the novel coronavirus, will also serve 39 domestic stations.

WestJet halted all international and transborder flying on March 22, one day after Canada and the U.S. agreed to limit all border crossings to essential personnel only. The one-month restriction has been extended twice, and now is set to expire June 22. But officials are hinting that the ban may be extended.

“It is clear that there is broad consensus across the provinces that we need to continue to keep our current border measures in place,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said June 15. “We will keep discussing with the United States administration on ways forward.”

Similar to other countries, Canada and its provinces implemented domestic policies restricting cross-border travel, limiting large gatherings and closing non-essential businesses, which led to a significant decline in travel demand.

WestJet’s new schedule is effective July 4, with some seasonal international service slated to start July 11. 

“Governments and Canadians from coast-to-coast are working together to lessen the impact of this pandemic and we are grateful that these efforts have put us in a position to add more options for travel this July,” WestJet chief commercial officer Arved von zur Muehlen said. “We’ve heard from the communities we serve and look forward to having Canadians safely participate and stimulate domestic tourism this summer.”

WestJet’s planned July flying doubles its June frequencies, but is 76% lower than July 2019, the carrier said. WestJet averaged 740 daily departures in its 2019 third quarter, company data show.

The Calgary-based carrier parked 120 of its aircraft, or two-thirds of its fleet including subsidiaries WestJet Encore and Swoop, when demand disappeared in late March, thanks in part to the international restrictions. It also reduced its staff of 14,000 by more than 70% in several rounds of cuts that included early retirements, voluntary and involuntary furloughs, and layoffs.

The carrier hopes that the easing of travel restrictions combined with multiple risk-mitigation measures will help stimulate demand. WestJet was the first Canadian carrier to announce onboard social distancing, and its blocking off middle seats on its Boeing 737s and 787 and alternate seats on its de Havilland Dash 8-400s through at least June 30.

Canada’s government has mandated masks for all passengers and is phasing in temperature checks for all inbound international and most domestic passengers. Starting June 30, operators will be required to screen all inbound passengers prior to departure from international airports. By September, temperature screening stations will be in place at Canada’s 15 busiest airports.

“All passengers who have an elevated temperature and do not have a medical certificate to explain a medical or physical condition that would result in an elevated temperature, will not be permitted to continue their travel and will be asked to re-book after 14 days,” Transport Canada said in announcing the new policy June 12.

Canada has required pre-boarding health checks since March 30. Several Canadian carriers including WestJet have been trialing temperature-screening procedures that will be added to the health checks.

As part of the new national policy, airport workers also will be screened to “maintain the integrity of the air travel corridor,” the agency said.

Screening within Canada will be done by Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) personnel. CATSA will procure touch-less screening devices from an approved list, Transport Canada said.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.