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WestJet cancellations continue after mechanics' strike ends, frustrating and confusing travellers

The surprise WestJet mechanics' strike has ended, but passengers are still facing cancellations and confusion this long Canada Day holiday weekend.

The Calgary-based airline said Monday the impact of the strike, which began ahead of the July 1 holiday, will continue in the coming days, meaning more cancellations before it can fully resume operations as usual.

Krrish Shah, who was visiting Toronto with family, said he was struggling to get back home to Calgary after he was notified of a flight cancellation at 2:30 a.m.

"It's just really difficult right now," he said. "My dad has work, my mom has work, I have work starting up. It says for the next three days nothing is available and we're really trying to figure something out."

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Speaking at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, Shah said he would likely have to fly back solo, separate from his family members and at increased prices, after receiving little help from the airline.

"Everyone's brains are going crazy right now. Everyone is confused."

I couldn't be more frustrated. I'm trying not to lose my cool. - Spencer Fox, WestJet passenger

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) decided to strike after federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan directed the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to impose binding arbitration to solve outstanding collective agreement issues between WestJet and the union on Thursday.

The board still allowed for a strike.

WestJet said it had cancelled 1,078 flights across Canada as of 11 a.m. ET Monday, including 292 on Monday and 27 on Tuesday, affecting more than 100,000 passengers.

Striking aircraft mechanics are seen on the picket line at Pearson International Airport, in Toronto, Saturday.
Striking aircraft mechanics on the picket line at Pearson airport on Saturday. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

The airline has parked 130 of its 180 planes since the strike began Friday.

"We are grateful to be recovering our operation; however, we fully recognize the continued impact on our guests and sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding," Diederik Pen, president of WestJet Airlines and group chief operating officer, said in a statement.

"Across our airline, our teams are working around the clock to safely bring the 130 aircraft parked across Canada back to the skies, as efficiently as possible."

Its planes are parked at 13 airports across Canada, Eight of them don't have crew bases, meaning workers need to be transported to the planes. Parked planes will also require maintenance and safety checks before returning to service.

The airline advises passengers to check the status of their flights before leaving to the airport and pull up WestJet's Guest Updates page online for more information.

'We do regret the disruption,' union says

Celina Marcellus paid for a separate flight from a different airline after her WestJet journey from Edmonton to her home in Kelowna, B.C., was cancelled.

She said flight prices to Kelowna from Edmonton International Airport skyrocketed following the cancellation, so she ended up booking a flight to Abbotsford, B.C., and arranging for a ride to Kelowna so she could get to work on Tuesday.

"Needless to say, I'm quite upset," Marcellus said, adding she was still unclear about whether she would receive a refund.

"The website wasn't working and the phones weren't working, so overall I'm quite frustrated and I don't know what's going to happen."

Spencer Fox, who travelled from Ohio to visit Whistler, B.C., said he had to spend an extra $700 to cover more food, transportation and accommodations after his flight home from Vancouver was cancelled. Adding to his frustration, he saidm he couldn't get through to WestJet customer service.

He said although he enjoyed his time in Canada, this was "probably the worst travel experience I've ever had."

"I couldn't be more frustrated. I'm trying not to lose my cool," he said.

The AMFA said the deal reached Sunday provides substantial improvements, including better benefits and an immediate 15.5 per cent wage increase, followed by an increase of 3.25 per cent next year and 2.5 per cent each year for the final three years of the five-year term.

"We believe this outcome would not have been possible without the strike, but we do regret the disruption and inconvenience it has caused the travelling public over the Canada Day holiday period," the union said in a statement on its website.

"The timing was coincidental as the negotiation process did not follow a predictable timeline. We are pleased the strike lasted only 48 hours and that service can now return to normal."