Canadian airline, Westjet should be celebrating. A couple of days ago the carrier launched a “modern and dynamic livery” which it said will prominently display its “national pride”. The updated look was revealed as Westjet unveiled the interiors of its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline has a total of 20 on order with the first expected to arrive in early 2019.
But the announcement has been seriously overshadowed. Westjet is facing strife, not only from a labour dispute that’s heating up but also controversy over a secret scheme that invited passengers to record its own flight attendants without their knowledge or consent.
First the labour dispute, which saw some 150 Westjet pilots picket the company’s annual meeting outside Westjet’s headquarters on Tuesday morning. The union which represents pilots at the airline is in the midst of holding a strike authorization ballot as it pushes for a formal contract between the airline and its pilots.
The Air Line Pilots Association says pay, work rules and job security are key areas that need to be addressed in the ongoing negotiations. Westjet, which was only formed in 1996, is attempting to negotiate a formal union deal for the first time in its history.
“It is time to show management that this pilot group is not content with substandard wages and working conditions or the outsourcing of our jobs,” explained Capt. Rob McFadyen, the chairman of WestJet’s ALPA Master Executive Council.
“We will fight for a contract with fair pay, reasonable work rules, and real job security.”
Negotiations have been ongoing for the past eight months but the two parties are said to be “far apart” on many of the key issues at stake. The authorization vote comes to a close today and the union could call a strike as early as May 18th. Air Canada has said it remains ready to step into the breach and help Canadian travellers should pilots at its rival walkout.
Then there’s the issue of WestJet’s so-called ‘Experience Fellow’ survey. Essentially, executives at the airline dreamt up a scheme that invited frequent travellers to record “specific moments of your airport or in-flight experience.” Those invited to take part in the survey were asked to download a special app where they could then write comments, post photos and record videos.
Frequent travellers had to record “moments” on Westjet flights, as well as on flights they were taking with rival airlines. Participants who managed to record 10 such Moments on a nominated flight were to be awarded a $100 Mastercard gift card.
But here’s the thing – flight attendants hadn’t been consulted and they didn’t even know this was happening. Staffers only found out when a passenger told a flight attendant they felt uncomfortable taking photos and video without formal consent.
The Canadian Union of Public Employee (CUPE) has called the scheme “unacceptable and extremely disappointing,” saying it was a “basic violation” of the right to privacy.
“It certainly speaks to the culture of disrespect at the executive level of WestJet toward the people who have built the company up,” commented CUPE spokesman Hugh Pouliot.
But Westjet said the scheme was never intended to record flight attendants or other Westjet employees. According to CBC, a member of Westjet’s research and insights team tried to explain the purpose of the survey on an internal employee forum, writing:
“The ask was aimed at understanding the elements of their journey that stood out and/or impressed them, as well as understanding where we can do better,”
“This type of feedback is very valuable when it comes to product development and informing future decisions.”
Nonetheless, Westjet’s chief executive, Ed Sims was forced to make a grovelling apology during Tuesday’s annual meeting.
“I apologize to any flight attendants, unreservedly, for those who were upset or offended by that action.”
Westjet’s first-quarter financial results showed a 20% drop in profits and shares in the airline slumped some 10% earlier this week.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.