WestJet flight attendants anticipate mass layoffs due to COVID-19

The union representing WestJet flight attendants is expecting layoffs of more than 50 per cent of its staff as the number of flight cancellations continues to mount amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

An internal memo sent to union officials and obtained by The Canadian Press says that travellers are rebooking “in such massive numbers” that the situation became grave “overnight.”

Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE 4070 — which represents WestJet cabin crews — says that daily conversations with senior management alerted him to the “severe” situation, which has also seen new bookings dry up.

He says that as recently as Wednesday, job reductions of only 12 per cent seemed likely.

Since then, however, the U.S. has implemented a ban on most travel from Europe; business trips, large gatherings and office commutes have dropped off; and institutions from the National Hockey League to Broadway have suspended their seasons.

Rauenbusch says one flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles this morning that had booked 150 passengers closed its doors with just 12 on board.

WestJet was not able to respond immediately to a request for comment.

On Friday, the federal government warned against all international travel and said it is limiting inbound flights as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The airports that would take inbound flights were not immediately identified.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam confirmed that Canada is now advising against all international travel to limit the spread of the virus.

She warned that travellers could be subject to another country’s travel or quarantine restrictions, and if they become sick, they could find themselves in a health care system inferior to Canada’s system.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday evening that the U.S. was banning travellers from most parts of Europe, the same day the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak a pandemic.

The State Department also issued a global health advisory cautioning U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel abroad” due to COVID-19.

There are now 180 presumed or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada. Trudeau is in self-isolation at home because his wife, Sophie, has tested positive.

In Alberta, where WestJet is based, there were 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by of Thursday night, all related to travel, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw. There were four new cases announced Thursday, all in the Calgary health zone.


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