WestJet pilots protest Swoop’s expansion at YLW

WestJet pilots feel undercut

While passengers may be cheering the arrival of low-cost airline Swoop in Kelowna, unionized WestJet pilots are protesting the situation. 

One of WestJet's first officers and vice-chair of the Air Line Pilots Association, Adam Harmer, says he believes more job losses are coming to airports like Kelowna International and that WestJet pilots, in particular, are being hurt by Swoop, WestJet’s ultra-low-cost subsidiary.

"I think the company is taking advantage of the global pandemic to reset its labour costs."

Swoop recently announced direct flights from Toronto to several new destinations, including Kelowna. Harmer says the issue is this particular flight used to be a WestJet route, "I've flown that route many times."

“They’ve taken our routes, our airplanes, and they are shifting flights to the lowest-paid division of our airline," Harmer continued.

Dozens of WestJet and Swoop pilots staged information pickets outside Canadian airports earlier this week to bring attention to what they're calling a move to undercut the union and drive down wages.

Harmer doesn't believe the pandemic is the real reason for the move, explaining the union has been battling WestJet over Swoop's role in the company since 2018.

"We'd like to see Swoop pull out of Toronto and have WestJet pilots and crews operate those flights."

Harmer says if there isn't some movement, he believes more cuts are coming, including in Kelowna.

"In Kelowna, a lot of the customer service agents have already been or are about to be laid off with their jobs given to contractors. Those are good-paying jobs and now those jobs are being outsourced."

Swoop flies on an ultra-low-cost model where passengers pay for each service, like carry-on luggage, separately.

“Swoop is important to the WestJet Group’s future, and, as Canada’s leading ultra-low-cost carrier, the airline is well-positioned to serve price-sensitive travellers while stimulating demand in Canada’s largest market,” says Swoop spokesperson Lauren Stewart.

“After a drop in guest traffic of up to 95 per cent and with recovery slower than anticipated, stimulating demand in our industry is critical for our group’s survival. Toronto is our country’s largest air travel market and every guest who flies with WestJet, Encore or Swoop is a win for our group, assisting in our recovery and supporting our collective future.”

Harmer sees the Toronto launch as a part of a long-term plan by WestJet to shift more routes to Swoop. “A lot of pilots had to take downgrades to first officers, they’re the ones that took the biggest hit to their pay in good faith." Harmer says they are also the first ones who are offered positions at Swoop.
“We feel they are taking advantage of the situation.”

More Kelowna News