The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a catastrophic impact on the airline industry. On Tuesday, unions representing employees at WestJet urged the federal government to deliver an aid package, to prevent the Canadian carrier from being “devastated within a matter of weeks.” According to one WestJet pilot, the COVID-19 impact on WestJet is an "urgent" matter.

Since COVID-19 grounded thousands of flights, and Canada’s borders were closed to all non-essential travel, the country’s airline industry has been suffering.

In fact, according to unions representing WestJet staff, the future of many of Canada’s leading aircraft carriers hangs in the balance.

Unions are urging the federal government to supply immediate support, to prevent companies like WestJet from going under.

“We’ve never seen an airline or an industry so acutely affected,” said Tim Perry, a WestJet pilot and president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Canada. 

He continued, “I would go so far as to say devastated, within a matter of weeks.” 

While Finance Minister Bill Morneau previously pledged specific measures to help the air transport industry, among other affected industries, he is yet to announce any official funding or plans.

“It is urgent. Time is of the essence,” Perry warned.

ALPA, which currently represents around 1,500 WestJet pilots, is calling on the federal government to introduce plans similar to those announced in the U.S.

American airlines are receiving bailout funding from the government that will allow companies to continue to pay wages, salaries and benefits to employees. They’re unable to reduce pay rates or layoff workers until at least October, thus protecting jobs and keeping staff in work.

This, Perry told the Calgary Herald, is the “absolutely the right approach.”

“In our view, it’s the best way to ensure a prompt and effective recovery of the sector when the economy and the world begin to improve,” he said.

The union's call for action comes as WestJet was forced to lay off almost 50% of their workforce, due to the impact of COVID-19.

Last month, the airline announced that 6,900 employees would be leaving the company, through early retirements, resignations and both voluntary and involuntary leaves.

“We’re now operating at the same size we were back in 2003,” CEO Ed Sims said at the time. “We simply do not have enough demand to support our workforce at our current numbers.”

Narcity has reached out to WestJet for comment.

This also comes as WestJet, alongside Air Canada, Swoop, Sunwing and Air Transat, faces a class action lawsuit, for failing to offer refunds to customers who’ve been forced to cancel their flights.

Filing the proposed suit on behalf of all Canadian travellers, one B.C. woman is calling for full monetary refunds from all airlines, rather than just travel credits.

The suit claims that the outbreak of COVID-19, and the subsequent effect on travel, was “outside of the control of the passengers,” and therefore warrants a full refund.

On Wednesday, Air Canada announced that they'd be re-hiring 16,500 laid off workers, after negotiations with the government confirmed that the airline would qualify for a federal wage subsidy.

WestJet is yet to make a similar announcement.

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