WestJet announced it is indefinitely suspending flights across Atlantic Canada as the coronavirus pandemic continues to broadly affect the travel industry.
In a press release, WestJet said it is indefinitely suspending flights to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown, while “significantly” reducing service to Halifax and St. John’s.
Flights to Quebec City have also been indefinitely suspended.
In total, more than 100 flights made to the region will be “eliminated.” WestJet says that is equivalent to nearly 80 per cent of its seat capacity to Atlantic Canada.
The flight suspensions begin Nov. 2.
“It has become increasingly unviable to serve these markets,” said Ed Sims, president and CEO of WestJet, in the press release.
“Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have worked to keep essential air service to all of our domestic airports, however, demand for travel is being severely limited by restrictive policies and third-party fee increases that have left us out of runway without sector-specific support.”
As of Nov. 2, WestJet will only operate the following flights in the region:
Halifax to Toronto two times daily; Halifax to Calgary nine times weekly; and Halifax to St. John’s 11 times weekly.
“While we remain committed to the Atlantic region, it’s impossible to say when there will be a return to service without support for a coordinated domestic approach. Our intent is to return as soon as it becomes economically viable to do so,” Sims said.
In a video released online, Sims pointed to passenger fee increases as one of the reasons WestJet pulled most of its flights.
“What has made this situation even more difficult is that five of the airports we currently serve in Atlantic Canada are part of a larger group of airports that have announced substantial fee increases,” he said.
Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, said airports across the country have increased fees as they try to survive the pandemic.
She said airport traffic in the Atlantic region is down over ninety per cent.
“We’re operating in a revenue crisis and need to be able to be here on the other side of this,” Pasher said. “It’s a user-generated business and there are no users right now.”
The slashing of service wasn’t surprising to Johanne Gallant, president and CEO of the Fredericton International Airport Authority.
“It’s very understandable,” she said. “It’s very difficult for airlines, with the restriction on quarantines, on only essential travel. It’s really limiting the amount of passengers.”
It was a message echoed by officials at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
“We’ve already seen a significant amount of cuts that have happened in our region since the pandemic began,” said Tiffany Chase, director of public affairs for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport Authority.
“At Halifax Stanfield, we’re seeing a very low demand for passenger traffic. We’re only serving about ten percent of the number of passengers that we did at this time last year.”
In addition to the flight changes, WestJet said it would be laying off an additional 100 corporate and support employees.
With files from Global News’ Tim Roszell