Canadian budget carrier Westjet has added its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the fleet, marking the start of a new era in its long haul operations. Kevan James reports.
Although it is often not quite appreciated by those who don’t live there (or who have never visited), Canada is a very large country. A look at a map of Canada and the USA shows little difference between the two in terms of geographical spread but one very big difference is that of population.
While the USA has a very large number of people residing within its borders, Canada does not and one side effect is the number of airlines serving it. Traditionally, Canada has never had more than two airlines with route networks linking it to the rest of the world and Air Canada (formerly Trans Canada Airlines) is the most well-known. The other at one time was Canadian Pacific, or CP Air. Both carriers had their sphere of influence but with the gradual breaking down of regulatory barriers, it was Air Canada that emerged the stronger. Since the demise of CP Air, there had been a gap in the market and a number of carriers have tried to fill it. None have been successful until Westjet came along.
Co-Founder Mark Hill’s mother is credited with coming up with the name and since the airline’s first flight in 1996, Westjet has grown rapidly. Unlike other airlines that have also expanded quickly however, Westjet’s growth has been more methodical, rather than seemingly adding aircraft and routes on an almost daily basis, a plan that has ultimately led to over-expansion and failure.
That steady rise has seen the airline grow across Canada, into the US and across the Atlantic and a regional feeder airline, Westjet Encore, began flying in 2012, the same year that the one-hundredth Boeing 737 next generation arrived. In 2013, the eye-catching ‘Magic Plane’ was revealed, the paint scheme displaying a Disney World Resort theme, featuring Mickey Mouse in his role as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Service to Dublin began in 2014, the first Boeing 767 was delivered and a second Disney World Resort-themed 737 took to the air. 2016 not only saw the airline’s twentieth birthday but London Gatwick also came online and in 2018, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was unveiled as the carrier’s new flagship, flying the Atlantic routes, including the newest destination of Paris.
Westjet’s success has not only been built on low fares but also in the level of service provided. Those who fly with the airline are not passengers but guests and the workforce are not merely employees but are known as ‘Westjetters’. That attitude has resulted in recognition for three consecutive years as Best Airline in Canada, in 2017, 2019 and 2019, and it has also been hailed as one of the most favoured mid-sized Airlines in North America (2019). The airline was also among the Economy Class award winners in North America in 2018.
Perhaps significantly, Westjet is one of very few airlines globally that does not commercially overbook, meaning nobody is bumped, or denied boarding. Including WestJet Encore, the carrier now offers scheduled service to more than 100 destinations in North and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.
With the airline based at Calgary, one of the most notable examples of the carrier’s growth was the opening of its new $50 million, 125,000-square-foot hangar for the Boeing 787 on April 24. Marking the occasion, Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO said: ‘Today marks another significant step in WestJet's journey as a global network carrier. This state-of-the-art facility provides the perfect environment for our highly skilled aviation maintenance engineering teams to continue to ensure the safety and comfort of our 25 million annual guests.’
Boeing 787 services began between Calgary and Toronto on February 20 and flights between Calgary and London Gatwick commence daily from April 28, and are planned to operate from Calgary to Paris 4 times a week starting on May 17, 2019, with Dublin receiving its first 787 on June 1 2019, a 3 times a week service following thereafter.
Canada may not have been a hotbed of airline competition in the past but in today’s world, Westjet have found a market that others seem to have missed and the airline is set to be the country’s second global airline.
© Kevan James 2019.