WestJet freezes hiring, considers suspending routes as COVID-19 hammers bottom line

News provided by Calgary Herald – link to full story and updates

WestJet Airlines has instituted a company-wide hiring freeze and is offering its employees voluntary buyout packages as COVID-19 takes a heavy toll on the company’s bottom line.

AMANDA STEPHENSON, CALGARY HERALD March 11, 2020

A WestJet Boeing 737 takes off from the Calgary International Airport on Jan. 23, 2020. GAVIN YOUNG / POSTMEDIA

WestJet Airlines has instituted a company-wide hiring freeze and is offering its employees voluntary buyout packages as COVID-19 takes a heavy toll on the company’s bottom line.

Spokeswoman Lauren Stewart confirmed in an email Wednesday that the airline is also reviewing its network with the aim of temporarily cutting routes and reducing network capacity by 12 per cent or more.

The Calgary-based airline said it is taking the actions to “protect the financial well-being” of the company. International travel restrictions and public fears about the coronavirus have “significantly weakened demand” across WestJet’s network, Stewart said.

The situation is compounded by the nearly year-long global grounding of the Boeing Max 8 aircraft, which has meant WestJet can no longer use 13 of its newest and most efficient aircraft. Stewart said WestJet CEO Ed Sims spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday and informed him that the combined impact of the two global events has had a “dramatic” effect on the company’s business.

WestJet has not yet provided information about the future of its new Calgary-Rome, Italy flight, which is set to launch in May. On Monday, Air Canada announced it was cancelling all routes to and from Italy until May 1.

“This situation remains extremely fluid, we will not speculate on additional measure we may need to take,” Stewart said.

WestJet is also undertaking other cost-cutting initiatives, including the freezing of discretionary spending.

In a news conference Wednesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he is concerned about the effect coronavirus is having across the entire economy, and mentioned WestJet specifically.

“They are an Alberta-based company and their yields and revenues and cash flow are down dramatically,” Kenney said.

More to come…