WestJet is suspending operations to four cities and significantly reducing service to two other cities in Atlantic Canada, as the airline continues to grapple with “obliterated” demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Calgary-based airline said Wednesday all flights to and from Moncton and Fredericton, N.B., Sydney, N.S. and Charlottetown, P.E.I. will be discontinued as of November 2 while service will be significantly reduced to Halifax, N.S. and St. John’s, Nfld.
The decision will eliminate 100 weekly flights to and from the Atlantic region, or nearly 80 per cent of seat capacity. An additional 100 employees who were scheduled to return to work next month will be laid off.
“It has become unviable to serve these markets and these decisions were regrettably inevitable as demand is being obliterated by the Atlantic bubble and third-party fee increases,” WestJet chief executive Ed Sims said in a statement.
“Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have worked to keep essential air service to all of our domestic airports, but we are out of runway and have been forced to suspend service in the region without sector-specific support.”
The suspended routes include flights between Toronto-Moncton, Toronto-Fredericton, Toronto-Charlottetown, Toronto-St. John’s, Halifax-Ottawa and Halifax-Sydney. The move will leave Atlantic Canada with three WestJet routes, including Halifax and Toronto (14 weekly flights), Halifax and Calgary (nine weekly flights) and St. John’s and Halifax (11 weekly flights).
The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as related government-imposed travel restrictions, have devastated demand for air travel around the world. Anyone travelling to Atlantic Canada is required to quarantine for 14-days, but residents living in the so-called Atlantic bubble are allowed to travel within the four provinces without quarantining.
“The lack of travel demand combined with domestic quarantines means that, sadly, we can no longer maintain our full Canadian network of service,” Sims said in a video announcing the route suspensions.
“It has taken decades to build this robust Canadian network to its highly competitive position. Over the last eight months, we are beginning to see these efforts unravel.”
Prior to the pandemic, WestJet flew more than two million passengers per month. Since March, the company has flown approximately one million passengers in total. The airline has parked 70 per cent of its fleet and laid off thousands of employees.
Sims said the demand issues have been exacerbated by rising fees at five airports in Atlantic Canada. WestJet increased fees it charges domestic travellers in September by 30 per cent, or between $4 and $7 per flight, citing a rate increase imposed by Nav Canada, the federal organization that operates air traffic control operations.
“Price increases that make air travel even more expensive are not what the travelling public needs or can even afford right now,” Sims said.
Air Canada announced in June that it would suspend 30 domestic routes and close operations at eight regional airports across the country, including two in Atlantic Canada. Nearly half of those suspended routes serviced Atlantic provinces.