By John Flett
WestJet Reduces Flight Operations By 20% in March
Canadian airline WestJet is set to reduce flight operations across its network by 20% in March, citing continued restrictions for international travel. The Calgary, Canada-based carrier will also be extending reductions in capacity that were implemented for January and February.
“It’s disappointing that Canada remains stagnant in its approach and continues to make travel inaccessible and punitive for Canadians and inbound tourists,” Interim WestJet Chief Executive Officer Harry Taylor said in a statement.
Passengers arriving into Canada must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption and regardless of vaccination status are currently required to undertake a pre-departure Covid-19 test within 72 hours of flight departure. Further testing and restrictions are also currently in place for arriving passengers with self-isolation requirements for unvaccinated passengers and vaccinated passengers awaiting arrival test results.
CTV News reported that Taylor stated, “Canada remains the only country among G7 nations to still require mandatory pre-departure and on-arrival PCR testing. Countries across the globe are recognizing the importance of travel and tourism on economic recovery and we are witnessing them take measures to safely re-open their borders and make sensible adjustments to overall travel guidance and testing requirements.”
Last month, the chief medical officers for WestJet and Air Canada, in addition to major hub Toronto Pearson Airport, called on governments to “shift PCR testing from airports to communities.” In an open letter, Dr. Tammy McKnight, Dr. Jim Chung and Dr. Edward Wasser stated that in one week of arrival testing, “over 123,000 PCR tests were conducted at Canada’s airports with an average positivity rate of 3%.” They compared this to the average community positivity rate that was 30% at the time and questioned the imbalance in the allocation of testing resources.
On Wednesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney backed the aviation industry’s calls to remove and relax travel restrictions. Speaking at the Council of the Federation meeting of Canada’s premier’s Kenney said, “Our response to Covid needs to change as the disease and the threat change, and with respect to travel, there are many jurisdictions around the world that have adopted more common-sense travel protocols than we have now in place in Canada.”
According to Lethbridge News, Kenney is calling for the federal government to eliminate three current restrictions on international travel: the requirement for a molecular test 72 hours prior to flight departure, testing and self-isolation upon arrival, and the requirement for children under the age of five to quarantine upon arrival.
The calls for the easing of restrictions come amidst protests in Canada’s capital — Ottawa — against federal vaccine mandates. Protests that have disrupted the nation’s capital and spread to Canada-U.S. border crossings restrict the movement of trade.