Canada's WestJet Airlines has said that it will reduce capacity, with schedule cuts that will mean furloughs, layoffs, unpaid leaves or reduced hours for approximately 1,000 employees, as demand slumped due to mounting government restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Privately held WestJet, which is the country's second-largest carrier, also introduced a hiring freeze. Calgary-based WestJet now has 5,700 active employees, a spokesperson said.
WestJet's announcement follows new Canadian rules that began on January 7 which require passengers to test negative for the coronavirus before boarding a plane bound for the country.
"Immediately following the federal government's inbound testing announcement on December 31, and with the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, we saw significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations, " WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims said in a statement.
Almost 200 flight attendants at WestJet and its affiliate carrier, Swoop, will be laid off, said the head of a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local, who blamed the government for the cuts.
Global airlines have called for the use of COVID-19 testing to ease travel restrictions that have crippled the industry, but Canada still requires passengers who have travelled abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.
Allison St-Jean, press aide to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said that the rules were introduced as a second wave of infections hits Canada and that "more than 100 countries have now put in place some level of testing requirement for international travellers."
But airlines said that they are not prepared to apply the surprise Canadian measure.
WestJet said that it had to deny 10 passengers from boarding one flight because they did not have eligible tests to meet the new requirement.
Air Canada, which is the country's largest carrier, has said that it also faced challenges.
In Talks To Provide Aid
Canada, which has provided emergency wage assistance to employers, is now in talks to provide aid to the ailing sector.