If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
CALGARY — In a full circle moment, WestJet celebrated the conclusion of its ambitious repatriation program with a final flight from where it all started – Trinidad and Tobago.
On July 17, flight 3903 – WestJet’s 28th and final repatriation flight – from Port of Spain arrived in Toronto carrying 171 guests. Port of Spain was also the destination of WestJet’s inaugural repatriation flight, which took place on April 4 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cabin Crew Manager Colleen Schindler was overheard giving guests a warm welcome home:
“If you are seated at a window seat I’m going to ask you to look out your window and down. Does anyone know what you’re looking at?” she said. “Niagara Falls, which means we are in Canada. Welcome back to Canada, everyone.”
Since April 4 and in collaboration with the Government of Canada, WestJet has operated 28 flights to 14 destinations to bring 4,073 Canadians home from The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Grand Cayman, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. The airline has flown an approximate total of 122,000 miles, the equivalent to five trips around the world, to carry Canadians home.
“By working together with our Government of Canada partners, we have returned more than 4,000 citizens to Canadian soil,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO. “Our commitment to the Prime Minister was to bring as many Canadians home as possible, and following 28 missions we are grateful for the volunteer contributions of more than 200 WestJetters and the collaboration from our airport and government partners. These individuals came together and demonstrated their Canadian spirit to ensure the safe return of our country’s citizens.”
Over the span of 104 days, hundreds of WestJetters organized the flights and operating crews, most of whom volunteered for the missions. At each destination, airport partners ensured all guests were health screened and temperature-checked prior to boarding.
In the end, flight crews assisted guests of all ages, safely returned 75 pets and provided more than 400 guests in wheelchairs with assistance during their journey home.
François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, added: “Over the last few months, Canada undertook its largest and most complex ever consular operation in peace time to help Canadians return home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This operation could not have been a success without the extraordinary support of airlines and their dedicated employees who helped us bring more than 50,000 Canadians home.
“I extend our sincere gratitude to WestJet for their contribution in making these repatriations possible during this unprecedented health crisis.”
WestJet and WestJet Encore continue to connect all 39 of the airline’s domestic airports with a reduced frequency to ensure essential travel, trade and cargo can continue during the pandemic.