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Saturday,  April 13, 2024 2:05 AM 

What’s next for WestJet?

  • Air
  •   10-21-2014  11:53 am

What’s next for WestJet?

When it comes to growth plans for WestJet, it seems as though the sky is the limit. Throughout the 18 years since its inception as a low cost carrier in the Canadian market, some things have changed and some have stayed the same, a story that will likely remain true going forward.

The business started out in 1996 with three Boeing 737 aircraft serving Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, with exceptional customer service at its core. Now, the mainline fleet is made up of 108 Boeing Next-Generation aircraft flying to 90 cities in 20 countries, plus it has enhanced domestic service with the 2013 introduction of regional carrier Encore, which now flies 14 Q400s, with more on the way.

The airline’s first foray into transatlantic destinations began last summer with a seasonal route connecting St. John’s, Newfoundland to Dublin, Ireland, and in 2015, a Halifax, Nova Scotia – Glasgow, Scotland route will also be part of the line-up.

Each move is a building block for the airline’s future, said Bob Cummings, executive vice-president of sales, marketing and guest experience at WestJet, who told PAX, “I think WestJet has a great trajectory in the next five, 10 years to write more chapters.”

The next phase of evolution is the pending addition of four wide-bodied aircraft, set to initially serve Hawaii from YYC, though overall, these new vehicles open up options for expansion into more international destinations.

Eventually, as the fleet and airline grow, gateways as far-flung as Asia may also be part of the equation, Cummings said.

“If you look at the growth of China and the profitability out of China and South America through 2025, there are phenomenal numbers,” he admitted. “If you look at our fundamentals and how we’re positioned to participate in those type of markets – what exactly that looks like, I’m not sure…but it’s not out of the question.”

Every move, whether domestic or international, is to support the success of the overall vision – for example, the advent of Encore is firming its position as a real coast-to-coast carrier, therefore setting the building blocks internationally.

“It’s an interesting industry in that way; what Sunwing has done with their model in the vacation space and Porter with their own thing; we always have to be thinking about innovation – pushing change,” Cummings said. “We’ll continue to evolve and it’s going to be the schedule that facilitates some further penetration in a growth sense.”

Keeping everything in stride, the transatlantic service has been a test for WestJet to understand long-haul service, though flying time is more or less equivalent to that between Calgary and Montreal. However, they’ve identified travellers’ needs and demands on such flights differ from its other business across Canada, in the U.S. and serving the Caribbean and Mexico.

“There’s a certain type of service that almost becomes core and that people will pay for as value,” the VP said, noting that they are currently working out an approach to hot meal service on wide-body long-haul routes.

Last year’s introduction of PLUS seating – offering additional comfort and amenities – has also opened doors, especially within the corporate travel market, in addition to an enhanced rewards program. It’s all just a matter of making moves that fit with the WestJet model, which Cummings related back to low-cost fare structure paired with an identifiable approach to friendly service.

So how does he envision the next decade of WestJet?

“I really believe that WestJet 10 years from now can be in the top 10 percentile for what I’ll call global national carriers in regards to a price and a certain level of service,” he said. “We’re excited about our model and taking it into wide-body, and how that`s going to translate into our ability to fly around the world.”