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WestJet cancels 20% of February flights amid Omicron wave

·3 min read
WestJet flights are being cancelled as the airline continues to grapple with the Omicron wave.
WestJet is cancelling 20 per cent of its February flights due to Omicron.

WestJet Airlines slashed 20 per cent of its scheduled February flights as it continues to grapple with a shortage of staff and what the company says is "the prolonged impact of government barriers."

The Calgary-based airline said on Tuesday that it made the "difficult decision" to reduce its February schedule "in response to the Omicron variant affecting staffing levels and the prolonged impact of government barriers on our business." The move comes a month after WestJet cut 15 per cent of its scheduled January flights.

"As we continue to navigate the unpredictability of the Omicron variant on our staffing levels along with the ongoing barriers to international travel, we are making every effort to proactively manage our schedule in order to minimize disruption to our guests’ travel plans," Harry Taylor, WestJet's interim president and chief executive, said in a statement released Tuesday.

"To our guests impacted by these additional consolidations, we sincerely apologize for the disruption and appreciate your continued understanding and patience."

The company said customers affected by the schedule reduction will be notified over the next few days.

Taylor also said the airline will continue to push "for the elimination of cumbersome travel rules that are unnecessarily impacting Canadians and prolonging the recovery of the travel and tourism sector."

"Canada remains one of the only countries in the world requiring multiple molecular tests for fully-vaccinated travellers," Taylor said.

"These testing resources should be redeployed to our communities."

WestJet joined Air Canada and Toronto's Pearson Airport and released a letter urging the federal and Ontario government to remove mandatory arrival testing and shift testing resources from airports to the community.

"As the government has ramped up testing at airports for international arrivals, we have seen frontline workers struggle to get PCR tests and lab processing capacity decrease significantly," the letter, signed by chief medical officers from WestJet, Air Canada and Pearson Airport, said.

"There is a growing discrepancy between resources allocated to asymptomatic travellers and to those who need it most."

Currently, travellers coming to Canada must provide a pre-arrival negative PCR test. Passengers coming from anywhere outside of the U.S. will also have to be tested upon arrival, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, and then quarantine until they receive a negative test result.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable has called on the federal government to shift its PCR testing strategy, limiting it to randomized on-arrival testing for surveillance purposes and redeploying remaining PCR tests for community use.

When asked if the government would consider reallocating PCR testing resources from airports, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos noted that the country is "in the middle of the Omicron crisis."

"As the situation evolves, we will keep adjusting our measures in all sort of ways, including at the border," Duclos said at a press conference Monday.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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