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Dozens of B.C. flights cancelled amid WestJet mechanics strike

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When Jennifer Lang and Amy Porteous docked in downtown Vancouver at the end of an Alaskan cruise Saturday morning, they had no indication that they wouldn't make it home to Ottawa as planned.

They took an Uber to Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, only to find out once they arrived that their flight home was one of hundreds cancelled by WestJet after the airline's mechanics' union went ahead with strike plans Friday evening.

"(We got) no notification whatsoever," Lang told CTV News.

"We were at the airport before we found out."

Australian tourist Robert Goudie was in the same boat – albeit not literally – on Saturday. His party arrived at the airport for their flight to Victoria, only to find out that it wouldn't be taking off.

"We didn't get any notifications, but once we got here, yeah, all cancelled," he said, adding that he suspects any alerts that were sent went to his travel agent in Australia.

All three travellers who spoke to CTV News Saturday morning described struggling to get customer service help from WestJet. Porteous had been on the phone for more than 90 minutes trying to find out if WestJet would reimburse them for flights booked on another airline.

Goudie, meanwhile, said the delay was "a pain in the ass," but wouldn't stop his group from enjoying their visit to B.C.'s capital.

"We're thinking about the ferry, because we've been told that the ferry ride's pretty awesome and we'll see a lot more from the boat," he said.

More than 200 flights cancelled

Dozens of WestJet flights were cancelled at airports across B.C. Saturday.

The airline's online flight status tool showed 34 flights bound for YVR had been cancelled as of Saturday afternoon, as had another 36 departures from the airport.

Other major airports in B.C. were also affected, with Kelowna International Airport seeing 10 departures and nine arrivals cancelled, and Victoria International Airport seeing 11 and nine, respectively. 

Smaller airports in Abbotsford, Comox, Kamloops, Nanaimo, Prince George and Terrace also showed at least one cancellation Saturday, according to WestJet.

The Calgary-based airline said it was cancelling more than 150 flights across its network as a result of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association strike, with more than 20,000 passengers expected to be affected during the busy Canada Day long weekend.

"Additional cancellations are anticipated by Saturday morning if the strike is not called off or intervention does not happen immediately," WestJet said in a statement Friday night.

The company added that it is "actively and aggressively pursuing every avenue to minimize disruption."

In an update Saturday, WestJet officials said 235 flights had been cancelled.

Union frustrated with federal minister

Earlier in the week, it appeared as though WestJet and its mechanics would avoid major service disruptions after federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan ordered binding arbitration to resolve the dispute.

The AMFA took the position that O'Regan's order did not prevent it from continuing with its previously threatened job action, and the union issued a statement Friday night indicating that the Canada Industrial Relations Board had told negotiators it would not prohibit a strike.

Union representative Ian Evershed told CTV News Calgary Friday night that the arbitration order didn't prevent the union from exercising its right to strike.

"In the minister's letter, there's no indication as to direction on the topic of strike or lockout," Evershed said.

Saturday morning, O'Regan issued a statement on X.

"The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) has issued an order referring the WestJet-AMFA dispute to binding arbitration for a first collective agreement under Section 80 of the Canada Labour Code," the minister said. "I am reviewing the board's decision, which is clearly inconsistent with my direction to the board."

"I will be looking at additional steps to protect the interests of the employer, the union and all Canadians travelling over this national holiday weekend."

O'Regan's actions and comments didn't sit well with AMFA members picketing at YVR on Saturday morning.

Union strike committee chair Mark Rudge told CTV News workers are "disappointed" with the labour minister, who they feel has not lived up to his previous statements encouraging parties to resolve labour disputes directly, without asking the government to intervene and order employees back to work.

Rudge said the strike was necessary to "really put some stress" on WestJet and make the airline bargain in good faith.

"When a company goes to the federal labour minister and asks them to intervene and to force us back to work and to mandate a contract on us, that's just simply not right," Rudge said.

With files from CTV News Calgary's Damien Wood 

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