WestJet not betting on big Air Canada disruptions

TORONTO (Reuters) – WestJet Airlines Ltd has no firm plans at this point to add extra capacity in the event of a strike at bigger rival Air Canada, Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky said Monday, adding that the labor dispute will likely be resolved quickly.

The Canadian Auto Workers, representing Air Canada’s 3,800 customer service and sales staff, set a strike deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday if the company and union are unable to agree on a new labor contract.

Saretsky said that even if the deadline passes, he expects the issues at Canada’s biggest airline will get resolved soon.

“Midnight tonight is only potentially a starting point for even more intense negotiations,” the head of Canada’s No. 2 airline said at a Toronto Board of Trade luncheon.

“They will be resolved fairly quickly, I would imagine, either through back-to-work legislation that the feds might impose, or through both sides being more motivated once it becomes more difficult to travel within the world of Air Canada.”

Saretsky said that WestJet has 15,000 to 18,000 empty seats daily throughout its fleet of Boeing 737s, which fly to destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, so it would have lots of room to accommodate more travelers.

The airline also has the ability to add extra early morning or late night flights if the need arises, he said.

“We’ll fly extra sessions if demand warrants it, but we are not counting our eggs before they’re hatched,” Saretsky said.

The key issues in the Air Canada negotiations revolve around pensions, wages, benefits and time off.

The CAW said Monday that there has been some progress in the contract talks, but major issues remain unresolved.

“The corporation appears to be determined to force us to destroy our pension plan and we are equally committed to remain steadfast in our position,” the union said in a statement.

Air Canada is in labor talks with five of its unions, including its pilots, flight attendants and maintenance workers, after their contracts expired earlier this year. (Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Rob Wilson)