16 September, 2023

WestJet fights cabin crew over PA speech by politician

The Canadian airline WestJet has been underfire from Canadian flyers and politicians after it allowed Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre use a WestJet plane's public address system to make political statements.

After a video of the event on a flight to Calgary was shared on social media and the airline faced criticism, it tried to blame the cabin crew,  saying they had allowed the leader of the opposition to take over the mic. 

The President of the Airline Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has weighed into the row disputing that assertion. “After pushback from Canadians online, some of whom were calling for a boycott of the airline, WestJet tried to throw our members under the bus,” said Lesosky. “But cabin crew were acting on direction from management. When the boss tells you to do something, there’s not a lot of options.”

Lesosky said the use of a PA system on a flight for a political speech isn’t appropriate and may break Transport Canada’s guidelines related to the use of emergency equipment.  “Mr Poilievre claims he was exercising free speech, but that’s nonsense,” said Lesosky. “There are safety rules against what he did, and they are there for good reasons.”

“We take our responsibility for the safety of passengers extremely seriously; it’s a shame Mr. Poilievre and WestJet don’t feel the same way.  Mr. Poilievre should focus on unpaid work of cabin crew in Parliament, while we do what we do best and focus on safety.”

WestJet has since tried to calm the issue with its CEO saying Alexis von Hoensbroech saying the airline was neutral on political issues and claiming it was fine for the political announcement to be made as it was an extra flight the carrier had added to cope with the demand for the convention. However, it should be noted that it wasn't a private charter flight and had other passengers and not just convention delegates travelling on the flight. As the politician's announcement mentioned turbulence some say could have detracted from any further safety announcements on the flight which could have presented problems.  

Von Hoensbroech stated:  "The leader of the party was given the opportunity to greet delegates onboard (which is not unusual), but this was not a political endorsement nor should it be interpreted as such  - We are non-partisan by nature and will revisit our policy on this."

Canadian anyalists have also disputed the notion that WestJet and its senior leaders were 'non-partisan by nature' with a number of them making political donations or statements in the past. It is also understood the airline is still providing 'corporate' discounts to political parties.