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WestJet customers describe frustration with cancelled flights even as strike averted

WestJet and its pilots' union say they have reached a last-minute deal, averting a strike ahead of the May long weekend.

111 Friday flights had already been cancelled in preparation for a possible strike

Pilots hold signs on a picket line.

WestJet and its pilots' union say they have reached a last-minute deal, averting a strike ahead of the May long weekend.

The airline had already cancelled about one-third of its flight load Thursday as negotiations with its pilots' union went down to the wire.

Some 1,800 pilots at the carrier and its Swoop subsidiary were poised to walk off the job as of 2 a.m. PT Friday after the Air Line Pilots Association issued a strike notice Monday.

A deal-in-principle was reached late Thursday night after more than nine months of negotiations, the Air Line Pilots Association said in a news release shortly after 10 p.m. PT.

Pilots were bargaining for higher pay and better job security and scheduling, according to the union, which said they currently make about half as some U.S. counterparts. WestJet pilots also wanted better scheduling.

Key issues addressed

The tentative agreement provides "meaningful improvements" to job security, working conditions and wages, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement.

As of Friday morning, the carrier had cancelled 107 flights, or 29 per cent of those scheduled for the day, according to tracking service FlightAware. The vast majority were out of Calgary or Toronto, with affected routes ranging from London to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Saskatoon.

The company said it's now ramping up operations "as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, the full resumption of operations will take time."

Passengers are advised to continue to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport.

"Congratulations to both parties and our federal mediators on a good deal made," federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan tweeted shortly after the announcement of an agreement. O'Regan had been helping in the negotiations, which were held in Toronto.

The agreement "goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise we bring to our airline every day," said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council.

"This contract will also help solve many of WestJet's pilot attraction and retention issues, benefiting everyone involved from our company to our passengers and fellow employees."

Pilots will now vote to ratify the agreement in the coming days, Lewall said.

With more than 4,000 flights scheduled over the next seven days, WestJet carries 28 per cent of Canada's domestic market, while Air Canada runs 47 per cent, according to flight data firm Cirium.

With files from Pete Evans and The Canadian Press

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