Southwest Walks Away From WestJet, Now What?

In a move that surprised Me and Southwest CEO Gary Kellynobody, Southwest told WestJet to take a hike last week after their relationship fell on hard times. It looks like Volaris will now be Southwest’s first modern codeshare partner while they look for other options on how to serve Canada. That’s too bad. Looks like the Canadian Mountie costume I wore to Southwest’s Halloween a couple years back was all for naught.

This little fight became publicly known in late March when new WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky said he wasn’t happy with how long it was taking for Southwest to get its act in order. Then he went on to say they were talking with Delta about a codeshare, conveniently fitting with Delta’s plan to transfer 5 slots to WestJet at LaGuardia. Uh huh.

Southwest said that WestJet had asked for some material changes to the agreement awhile back and then on Friday, the axe fell. Southwest walked away. So what were those material changes? If I had to guess, I’d say it was related to other partnerships that WestJet wanted (duh). Did they give Southwest blanket exclusivity? I’m sure not, but I’m guessing Southwest wasn’t too happy with them trying to link up with another large domestic US airline. So that’s over.

Now, Southwest says (in a very stilted way) this:

We remain interested in exploring the possibility of one day offering service to Canada if it makes sense for Southwest and for our Customers. That would not rule out future codeshare relationships with Canadian carriers, or flying north of the border ourselves.

Hmm, future codeshare relationships? Well if it’s not WestJet and I can’t imagine Air Canada, that leaves some pretty slim pickings. Air Labrador is probably working on trying to feed Sun Country and its burgeoning Gander hub. Maybe Southwest can connect up with Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife? No, I know. It’ll be Aklak Air in Inuvik. Like I said, the pickings are slim.

At this point, Southwest probably needs to look at whether it’s even worth flying to Canada at all. Without WestJet, I imagine a codeshare opportunity is dead, so it becomes a matter of whether they want to build up a tiny operator in Canada (I doubt it) or start flying there themselves. There aren’t going to be that many cities that are attractive for high frequency service on a 737. I mean, look at Air Canada. They fly 70-80 seaters on a ton of routes to the US and they have all kinds of feed coming from within Canada already. Yes, Southwest can bring feed from the US, but I’m just not convinced it’s worth it.

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