WestJet pilots threaten to walk, not fly

If you thought long weekend travel couldn’t possibly get any more chaotic, think again. 

The union representing WestJet pilots issued a strike notice, meaning 1,850 pilots could hit the picket line as soon as Friday and leave flights grounded as they negotiate a contract. In response, the airline said, jokes on you, we’re not going to let you come to work anyway. 

  • Pilots want more job security, decreased schedules, and higher pay, including equal pay for Swoop pilots (WestJet’s budget subsidiary). WestJet has said no chance

Why it’s happening: The demands come after Delta pilots in the US scored a huge new contract that gives them a 34% pay increase over four years. WestJet pilots are demanding a “North American standard contract” that would pay them at levels comparable to US pilots.

  • Air Canada could soon face similar demands. Its pilots can force negotiations for a new contract at the end of May and, per their union, are looking for “historic gains.”

Why it matters: The dispute could impact the Canadian aviation industry beyond delayed flights. If WestJet pilots win higher wages, other airlines could be pressured to raise them too. As it relates to you, we have some good news and some bad news: 

  • The good news is that higher wages might attract more pilots to Canada as it faces a shortage—per the WestJet union, the airline lost 240 pilots last year due to low pay.
  • The bad news is that higher wages can lead to higher airfare (which is already pretty dang steep) as airlines pass the increased labour costs down to travellers. 

Zoom out: From pilots to public workers to hotel staff, the elevated cost of living has led to increased labour unrest. With a recent set of wins and a high (well, compared to the US, at least) unionization rate, Canada could see more labour action soon.—QH