Canada’s cut-throat carrier WestJet follows the standard model for discount carriers – single aircraft variant, staff employed on minimal pay, planes maintained to minimum standards and passengers expected to pay for absolutely everything they get from the airline except an occasional smile from flight attendants. The airline began in 1996, copying the formula used by Southwest and Ryanair. Within months the airline was expanding from Calgary with a focus on western provinces. In 1999 it listed on the stock exchange and in 2000 when Canadian Airlines was absorbed into Air Canada, WestJet expanded eastwards and now operates a second hub in Toronto. In 2004 WestJet went international providing services to the US and later added Mexican and Caribbean destinations to their route map. In 2006 WestJet admitted illegally spying on Air Canada’s customer database. In 2010 Canadian regulatory authorities ruled against WestJet’s baggage policies. While other North American airlines struggle to balance their books, WestJet’s continuously posts impressive profits.
Despite being a low cost airline, the normal terrible service that is associated with such airlines is not always found on WestJet. WestJet flight attendants can be fun and engaging and are encouraged by management to be flirtatious and informal which many passengers appreciate, especially holiday makers. Crew uniforms are classic and in the same blue/green of the airline’s colour scheme. While crew may occasionally be fun, more often they are tired and are just there to sell on board snacks to meet their sales targets. Passengers who push the call button twice can expect an impatient scowl the second time and will very likely be ignored the third time, unless the passengers want to buy more junk food that is.
As a Canadian airline their network is superb. WestJet covers all popular routes frequently and in the most direct manner possible. The airline also provides excellent links to dozens of locations in the US, Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba and the holiday islands of the Caribbean. WestJet knows that hubs are both disliked by passengers and costly to operate so wherever possible the airline provides point to point services which regularly make WestJet the best choice. WestJet also operate regular charter flights, especially during Canada’s holiday seasons.
WestJet follow the same discount airline formula of offering many tickets extremely cheaply and hoping to make big bucks on last minute bookings by desperate people or during peak times of year when they can charge high prices. As a result if you're flexible with dates and times there are below cost bargains to be found by regularly searching their website. Once a passenger is booked, ‘extras’ need to be paid for, including paying by credit card which is practically essential.
WestJet provide Business Class and charter tour passengers complimentary catering while everyone else needs to buy stuff from their catering trolley. The airline sells soft drinks, tea, coffee, convenience store snacks and also sandwiches, noodles and pasta. The airline’s catering is pretty lousy. Sandwiches can still be semi-frozen in the middle and the pasta they serve freely to Business Class is in many cases worse than supermarket TV dinners. There is nothing healthy on the airlines menu.
WestJet’s larger Boeing 737’s are fitted with LiveTV, the network used on US carrier jetBlue. Passengers can pay to watch the aircrafts seat back entertainment units and will receive a headset. Smaller 737’s only have audio or passengers can browse the in-flight magazine UP! which is a surprisingly good read. Due to a lack of free entertainment, management encourage staff to be playful to distract them from the reality of a dull flight..
WestJet regularly attempt to introduce fees and charges which are illegal under Canadian law. When the regulatory authority orders WestJet to amend their policy to comply with the law, WestJet promote this enforced generosity as an airline initiative. Ground service is minimized as the airline steers passengers towards on-line check-in. Bags in North America are not treated carefully by their low paid baggage handlers and pilfering is common, especially on routes to the US, Mexico and Caribbean making Travel Insurance a priority. Misconnecting bags are a nightmare that WestJet don’t want to take responsibility for. Their under staffed counters are very unsympathetic and many attempt to blame the passengers for the airline losing the bag.
WestJet’s Business Class is insulting. It is inferior to most legacy airlines economy class and their meal service fails to match economy in most Asian or Middle East airlines. Business Class passengers do get a larger seat than Economy and their meal is complimentary, however alcoholic drinks are not. WestJet’s so-called Business Class meal is served in a cardboard box with plastic cups. Its basically a frozen TV dinner. The airline also has sell access to a variety of lounges at major Canadian airports which range in price but can be good value if the wait is long and the passenger is hungry. The lounges resemble busy buffets.
WestJet’s service is little different from Air Canada’s these days. As Air Canada only provide complementary catering on flights over 5 hours, there seems little reason to prefer them. WestJet’s Economy passengers will experience a forgettable trip and get what they pay for and nothing else.
WestJet’s Frequent Guest Programme is the name of their loyalty scheme. The scheme is little more than a gimmick to try and get more money out of passengers without providing much in return. As the programme is not partnered to other airlines and has not been very well developed there are few convincing reasons to join. Points are called WestJet Dollars which in reality are valued at less than C$0.007 each. Only people who love joining free-bee schemes or travel on WestJet for work will be satisfied by joining.
High moral standards and ethics are a definite stumbling block to promotion at WestJet. The corporate body feel totally relaxed about operating outside the law when they feel the benefits outweigh the risks of getting caught so what are these people really capable of? The airline is definitely anti-union however they do make gestures to keep staff in the good books such as paying a profit-share bonus twice a year. However, the airline is not being generous, its just that their consultants advised them the morale benefits of a bonus outweighed paying a living wage which few staff actually earn.
To save money the airline’s entire fleet of almost 100 aircraft are Boeing 737’s which are maintained to the manufacturers standards. Their lowest standards. Maintenance is an unwanted expense that needs to be minimised like everything else, so the bean counters who make the major decisions are not thrilled when an aircraft is pulled from service when it experiences difficulties. As a result of the airline’s cost cutting pressures it has experienced a high number of incidents however none fatal.
Canada’s leading cut-throat, fare cutting no frill carrier. Despite moral flaws the airline is often good value.
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