WestJet Adds New Destinations and Seasonal Routes

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WestJet says its strategic plan is to liberate Canadians in smaller communities from the high cost of air travel. They say it’s been doing that fortune-cookie maxim for 18 years. Mostly in western Canada, in the beginning, which is why they’re called WestJet.

David Neeleman was one of the founders of WestJet in 1996, probably the right person at the right time. He also founded Morris Air, JetBlue Airways and is now wrapped up in Azul Brazilian Airlines. Which tells you something about the neighborhood WestJet comes from.

It’s Canada’s low-cost carrier, but it’s more JetBlue then Southwest. It’s nothing like rock-bottom Ryanair. You could argue the competition it delivers has made Air Canada better. Without it, Canada is pretty much a monopoly in the air, except for Porter Airlines flying out of Toronto Islands.

And then there’s always talk of another startup.

In the beginning WestJet served Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Vancouver and Winnipeg with a fleet of three Boeing 737-200s. It quickly added Regina, Saskatoon and Victoria to its network.

In 2000, when Air Canada took over Canadian Airlines (something that seemed unimaginable), WestJet came out of its western closet ripping off the hinges and expanding into eastern Canada, beginning service to Hamilton, Ottawa and Moncton. Most of the other major eastern cities were later added.

WestJet’s first scheduled service outside Canada and the United States began in 2006 to Nassau, Bahamas. It was a big day in the company’s long-term destination strategy.

It grew nineteen to the dozen and offered scheduled and charter service to 90 destinations in Canada, the United States, Europe, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. WestJet is Canada’s second-largest carrier and the eight-largest North American airline based on passengers carried (18.5 million in 2013).

This week, WestJet announced two new destinations and a snowbird escape to Florida. The new destinations are Loreto – on the Mexican Baja California peninsula – and Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick.

The Loreto route is a Saturday-only seasonal service from Calgary beginning on Feb. 14. You can take your sweetheart to Loreto for Valentine’s Day. The flights end May 30.

Beginning Nov. 1, WestJet offers direct service from Winnipeg to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturdays, with a morning departure and early evening return to Winnipeg.

WestJet’s Encore regional unit will fly two daily round-trip flights from Fredericton to Toronto on 78-seat Bombardier Q-400 turboprops.

WestJet launched Encore in June 2013 with a fleet of Bombardier Q400 twin-turboprop aircraft to serve as a regional airline. Until then, WestJet had an all-Boeing 737 fleet (like Southwest Airlines), but needed to add smaller aircraft to expand its network to Canadian cities with populations of only a few hundred thousand.

Like the mother ship, Encore first launched in western Canada. Fredericton is Encore’s first destination in the Canadian Maritime provinces.

WestJet also says it is boosting its number of flights on 19 existing routes across its network. It operates about 120 aircraft that have an average age of less than seven years. WestJet has 100 aircraft on order, 65 of them 737-MAX’s.

The Tarmac’s View:  Based on experience and street reputation, many Canadians choose WestJet over Air Canada. The airlines, and even passengers with loyalties, bicker between themselves like gulls and crows. Here’s some trivia.

In 2004, Air Canada accused WestJet of accessing Air Canada confidential information by illegally tapping into its computers. WestJet later admitted to the charges and agreed to pay C$5.5 million in legal and investigation fees to Air Canada and to donate C$10 million to various children’s charities.

[Photo: iStock]

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