If you were working at Calgary-based WestJet and you thought there was opportunity for you outside of North America, where would you go first? Maybe you think about London, or maybe you think about some spots in northern South America. But would you guess Dublin? If so, you’d be right.
Dublin itself might not be that strange, but this isn’t coming from a big city. No, it’s actually going to be a flight from St John’s, way out in Newfoundland. The metro area, if you can call it that, has almost 200,000 people. That’s good enough to be the 20th largest metro area in Canada. Yeah… 20th.
Not strange enough? This is a city with a mere 4 flights during the winter on a good day from WestJet, mostly from Toronto and nearby Halifax but there are also some sun flights to places like Orlando. It swells by a couple extra flights in the summer. So, why the heck is WestJet doing this?
I see it as a pretty interesting test, actually. The new flight will run daily during the summer season only – from June 15 until a rather late October 5. This flight will start in Toronto and then continue on through St John’s to Dublin. (Both Air Canada Rouge and Aer Lingus fly from Toronto nonstop so there is a lot of competition for that traffic.) WestJet will also add a flight from Ottawa to St John’s that is supposed to connect up.
For WestJet, there is very little at stake here. The flight is surprisingly short to those of us who don’t pay much attention to Canadian geography. Remember how I said that WestJet already flies from St John’s to Orlando? Dublin is less than 25 miles further from St John’s. Via Great Circle Mapper…
You always think of Transatlantic flying requiring long flights, but St John’s is so far out there that the eastbound flight is scheduled gate-to-gate at a mere 4h15m. It’s shorter than Vancouver to Toronto. Heck, it’s shorter than Phoenix to Philly. So this will be easy for the airline’s 136-seat 737-700 to operate.
It leaves St John’s at 1115p and arrives Dublin at 7a. It turns around quickly, departing at 820a, getting back to St John’s at 955a. WestJet likely would just leave that airplane overnight in St John’s otherwise, so the amount of extra aircraft time being used here is minimal.
I know you’re probably wondering – what about that long overwater flight? Well, the most direct route would need ETOPS, but that’s not an issue. Remember, WestJet flies to Hawai’i already and has had all the certification it needs for years. It also handles international flying with travel throughout the Caribbean, so this isn’t really a stretch.
The question is… are there 136 people willing to pay a decent fare to fill that airplane every day? Well, I guess we’ll find out. But even if they don’t, that’s ok. Dublin’s incentives for new service apparently played a role in WestJet’s decision to fly the route.
The risk is so minimal that it’s certainly worth a shot. But the upside is tremendous. If this works, then the 737 could reach into several cities in Europe with ease. (Air Canada already flies an A319 during the summer to London so there is at least some precedent.) And WestJet has considered other aircraft types that could expand the operation further inland in Canada if it proves to work well.
I’m really not convinced this will work, but it seems like it’s worth a shot because there’s so little at stake.