TORONTO — WestJet is thanking travel advisors for their patience and support over the past two years – and especially now as the airline ramps up its operations.
While agents no doubt appreciate the gratitude, and are happy to see the airline coming back strong at this point in the pandemic, many have questions about refunds, call centre hold times and more.
At yesterday’s Town Hall, hosted by ACTA, WestJet’s VP Sales & Distribution, Chuck Crowder, addressed WestJet’s recovery and concerns from the trade in a pre-taped presentation.
And later, WestJet’s Manager, Commercial Sales, Spencer Sorensen, took part in a live Q&A session with agents.
WestJet is seeing strong booking and travel volumes, with April 3 marking a new high point with the highest single-day passenger count since the start of the pandemic.
“Canadians are ready to reconnect this summer,” said Crowder, adding that market research shows the greatest intent to travel since before the pandemic, particularly to the U.S. and Europe.
WestJet has restored much of its network for the busy summer months, and that means more calls coming into the call centre. Like just about every other airline and tour operator, WestJet has been dealing with frustratingly long hold times as demand soars amid low staffing levels and labour shortages. Crowder said WestJet has added 700+ contact centre agents since August 2021. WestJet now has more than 1,100 call centre agents.
The “operational turbulence” that agents and consumers have been experiencing with reaching the airline, not to mention cancelled flights, is easing, said Crowder. “We promised we would make improvements, and we have,” he said, adding: “Our commitment to the trade remains an important focus for WestJet. And we want to thank you for your ongoing patience.”
Crowder also spoke to WestJet Group’s proposed acquisition of Sunwing and Sunwing Vacations.
“The transaction will bring together two distinctly Canadian travel success stories. The combination will allow the two companies to rebuild strength” post-pandemic, and protect jobs, he added.
REFUNDS, HOLD TIMES, CANCELLATIONS: Q&A
WestJet’s Sorensen took over for WestJet’s Q&A. Agents wanted to know about refunds, the call centre hold times, flight cancellations and more.
For WestJet air only refunds, Sorensen said the majority of the refunds have been processed. For WestJet Vacations, “we’re working from oldest to newest, and we’re currently at January 2022,” he said.
When it comes to call centre hold times, Sorensen noted that the situation “has improved significantly, but there’s still work to be done.” For air-only, the majority of calls are now answered in one hour or less. More agents and consumers are choosing the call-back option, and that’s helping, he said.
Agents also asked about flight cancellations. Like other airlines, the stops and starts of travel’s recovery over the past six months or so have meant flight cancellations, much to the frustration of passengers, their travel agents and no doubt the airlines themselves.
“I wish I could say we could guarantee every flight,” said Sorensen.
While the end of 2021 and the start of 2022 saw WestJet posting monthly updates about schedule reductions, he noted that operations should be a lot smoother for the months ahead as the post-pandemic recovery gains traction. WestJet’s entire summer schedule was released in early March. “We’re trying really hard to have those longer schedules going out into the market,” said Sorensen.
Another agent asked about Swoop. Earlier this year WestJet announced that Swoop flights are now bookable with WestJet Vacations packages. That raised some eyebrows in the industry, since as an ultra low-cost carrier Swoop doesn’t pay commission.
WestJet Vacations’ new packages with Swoop flights are commissionable, said Sorensen.
However there’s still no commission on Swoop air-only bookings, as has always been the case.
All the competition in the coming months – Canada’s airline industry now includes Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, WestJet, Swoop, Transat, Sunwing, Porter, Flair, Lynx and soon Canada Jetlines – means Swoop “needs to stay competitive,” said Sorensen. And like other ULCCs, that means no commission.
As for the potential dogfight coming to Canada’s skies this summer, he said WestJet Group is “monitoring pricing every single day.”