Air Canada offers to help passengers stranded by a possible pilot strike

MONTREAL _ Air Canada is turning the tables on WestJet by taking advantage of labour uncertainty at its Calgary rival with a suggestion that it is ready to adjust schedules and capacity to limit passenger disruptions.

In a statement, the Montreal-based airline says the public may feel anxious about potential labour disruption as WestJet pilots begin voting on giving its negotiators a strike mandate.

WestJet took a similar tack in 2011 when Air Canada was undergoing labour battles of its own.

It also vowed to add flights to rescue stranded passengers if an Air Canada strike grounded planes.

Analyst Chris Murray of AltaCorp Capital called the moves pure marketing, by highlighting the challenges facing its domestic rival while also promoting its service as an alternative.

Still, he says ongoing uncertainty about a potential strike could hurt WestJet revenue per average seat mile, also known as RASM.

WestJet CEO Ed Sims downplayed the strike vote, calling it a common step by unions in the overall labour negotiating process.

A 60-day federal conciliation period ends Friday, which marks the beginning of a 21-day cooling-off period, after which the pilots can legally strike.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which is attempting to conclude WestJet’s first union contract, represents about 1,500 WestJet pilots and 500 WestJet Encore pilots.