WestJet to Launch Transatlantic Service in an Unlikely Way

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.

St John's Canada

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

St Johns New WestJet Service to Europe

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.

[Original St John’s image via Wikipedia user Aconcagua/CC-SA2.0]


38 Responses to WestJet to Launch Transatlantic Service in an Unlikely Way

  1. David says:

    It’s worth noting a possible issue around timings at Dublin. The first flights from the UK / Europe arrive into Dublin about 7:45 or 8 am – just a bit too short to allow for even a non-official change (ie at passenger’s own risk). Remember – in Europe, we’ve been trained by Ryanair to never take hold baggage and print boarding cards at home so no need to visit checkin at Dublin

    Thus people who want to take this flight from Dublin to St John’s must spend the night before in/near Dublin or Westjet has to ignore the possibility of connecting passengers.

  2. JRS says:

    Most of the potential passengers are probably going to come from the St. Johns area and with a population base around 200,000 that doesn’t sound like enough to fill a plane on a daily basis to Dublin considering that they will also be competing with Orlando as a vacation destination. I guess it is worth a shot but I would predict that a daily schedule is going to be cut back to several times a week.

    • The strange part is definitely Orlando. I would think WS traffic to Orlando is mostly destination, not locals. Tough competition with b6/EI and a host of legacy competition from US/Canadian carriers.

  3. SirWired says:

    I know this won’t be an expensive experiment, but seriously? St John’s to Dublin? It’s not a big risk, but who’s going to possibly populate those seats?

  4. Dr. Jordan says:

    The real motivation here is that WestJet just signed a maintenance contract with a Dublin based firm for the 73Gs. They will be shuttling the type to DUB anyway – so why not carry some folks also.

  5. Myaybe locals are willing to fly to DUB as a starting point to a Europe vacation with a few days in Ireland. Look at your map, if you are in the St John area you have to back track into Canada or the U.S. and then fly back over St John to get over the Atlantic, so for some, it could be worth flying to DUB and going on from there.

    St John like Gander and Bangor see a lot of action in winter months when flights from Europe must land for fuel during bad weather before heading on to the final points, so lots of people do see the St John area and may want to go back for a visit in summer :-)

  6. D-ROCK says:

    Any talk of a partnership with Aer Lingus to shuttle these passengers from Dublin throughout Europe? I know that WestJet currently has a codeshare agreement with Air France, which when using CityJet, can get people to LCY or CDG relatively easily. They also have a codeshare agreement with BA, so expansion of that could connect to LHR as well.

    • David says:

      Aer Lingus are launching a non-stop Toronto-Dublin route in April 2014.
      Westjet are flying a summer seasonal Toronto-Dublin with a stop in St John’s from May 2014.
      Why would Aer Lingus want to partner with a rival on the Toronto-Dublin route ?

    • Shane says:

      I think this is looks like a test for other European destinations. The market is obviously for Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax 1-stop or connecting flights. While people may be willing to save some money for a 1-stop to europe, the interest falls once you have to make a second connection versus several other carriers that can offer 1 stop.

  7. davywavy says:

    737 trans-Atlantic has been tried before. In the summer of 2010 Sun Country Airlines flew from MSP to London Gatwick, via YQX (Gander).

    You were rather less optimistic about that foray, and it didn’t last.

    http://crankyflier.com/2010/03/17/sun-country-to-fly-737s-to-london/

    [i]But is this really worth running this flight? Listening to others thoughts on this, the best rationale I’ve heard is that there must be some sort of tour company relationship. Sun Country does a lot of tour business, so this could be a sweetheart deal where they get paid a lot to shuttle tour participants over.

    If that’s not the case, well, I just don’t get it.[/i]

    • sjc user says:

      IIRC, YQX was just a refueling stop and the pax could not get off the plane there. Besides, other than the airport, there isn’t much in Gander from when I drove through the town twice in 2007.

  8. Chicago Chris says:

    It almost makes sense from Dr. Jordan’s perspective of being a revenue maintenance run, but I also have to wonder if they will just sell it as a Toronto-Dublin via St John’s. In that case it makes a whole lot more sense.

    As mentioned there is some competition on the nonstop, but priced right it could compete.

    Let’s not also forget it has codeshare agreements with some European carriers so we could see an opportunity for connections.

  9. sjc user says:

    I flew into YYT and spent a week on the rock back in 2007. I remember when I got in late at night, seeing that AC had a flight to LHR and that it was on a domestic jet (A319/320?).

    I wonder how many people from DUB will be interested in seeing Newfoundland and Labrador? It’s a beautiful place and worth visiting as a tourist. St. John’s didn’t seem to be a major business center though. I would think most of the traffic would be driven by tourism.

    Toward the end of the trip, I saw a display about the location of St. John’s and realized I was closer to Europe than my home in the Bay Area.

  10. JayB says:

    Asking Americans about anything Canada is, well, like, what do you think about rocket science.

    My knowledge of Newfoundland pretty much began by listening to Foster Hewitt’s Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts (on those clear, cold nights when CBC’s signals skipped down to the south, and hearing him say: \”Welcome hockey fans across Canada and Newfound-LAND, emphasis on the last syllable! Well, there’s Canada, and then there’s Newfoundland!

    Of course, anyone flying back to East Coast US and finally seeing land, well, sees what sorta passes as land, even if civilization may not exist there. But, I can imagine it won’t be that long ’til someone starts RJ extended-range service to Europe from somewhere up there. I must say it is an interesting, very nice neighbor and best of luck to WestJet.

  11. A says:

    Interesting, earlier this year I made it out to YYT. Actually flew WestJet back to YYZ on my trip home. St John’s is a very unique and interesting place. I would suggest visiting if you have the opportunity – some of the nicest Canadians I’ve ever encountered. And yes, there are surly not-so-nice Canadians out there too.

    I do like the comparison to Sun Country’s flights to London from MSP with the fuel stop in Gander. While there might be some O/D traffic in St. Johns, I highly doubt they’ll fill a 737 on a daily basis. Instead I see people in Toronto lookinging at a potentially cheaper option to Dublin by adding a layover. I know people that took the London flight out of MSP because it was cheaper, but in the end most people coughed up the extra cash to fly direct on Delta. Will the same happen to WestJet, I’d guess so, but who knows, Canadians travel well and maybe some extra demand will push it over that threshold.

    • sjc user says:

      Did you manage to get a car and drive around the island? The people are great and there is Gros Morne, which are some stunning what would have been fjords except they got separated from the sea on the west coast of Newfoundland.

      Across the island, the people there are so nice. They would give me suggestions on places to visit or just strike up a conversation.

  12. MeanMeosh says:

    If this is intended to be primarily a tourist run, I have to wonder about the eastbound timing. That’s a BRUTAL redeye – you’re talking maybe 3 hours of sleep, and arriving in DUB at such an early hour that you’re going to be waiting 5-6 hours to check in to a hotel. I’ve done a couple of these runs from India to Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, and it took pretty much 2 entire days to recover; not fun when you’re trying to squeeze in some quick vacation time. I guess if the price is right, it could still work.

    • David says:

      Don’t be a wuss. There are some red-eyes within Europe that leave at 1 am, arrive at 6 am and thanks to a 2 hour timezone difference, the flight is just 3 hours long. And yes, people do take these flights (I’ve done it myself), for the simple reason that they’re cheap.

    • Jason H says:

      Same idea with several domestic red-eye flights, such as west coast cities to IAH, DFW, and MSP, where the flights are 3-4 hours long with 2 hour time difference. Granted, passengers will often be connecting to other flights from those hubs, but those flights are quite popular and many people love them since you get the full day before you leave, and the full day at your destination.

  13. Wow! The new page is fancy! Good work! If this succeeds, I have to wonder (and I fully realize this is a real stretch) if Alaska might try to initiate limited service to Asia through Anchorage.

  14. Came back to leave another comment and see your website has changed. Interesting.

    Anyway, back to this post, after reading comments some find it hard to believe anyone would want to fly a 1-stop from Toronto to Dublin instead of a nonstop. But people from the west coast take connecting flights to cities that have nonstops in the market and sometimes on the same airline that offers a nonstop. Sometimes times/price or not wanting to be on an airplane for many hours will have people taking these type flights.

    Also someone mentioned arrival time in Dublin and checking into hotels. Well look at all the flights from the east coast that arrive in the early morning into Europe cities, that doesn’t stop people from taking those flights.

    Seems the real issue is if WestJet can fill even a 737 everyday. But if they offer good prices and nice tour packages they might.

  15. Dave says:

    I would think a flight to Glasgow or Edinburgh might do better but who knows. Lot of Scottish heritage in that part of Canada. I lived in Prestwick back in the 70’s and there was a daily Air Canada DC-8 flight from St John’s or Halifax which always seemed to have pretty good passenger loads.

  16. Matt Weber says:

    Unless the price is really low, there is likely to very little O&D traffic from St. Johns. The market from St. John’s is to the UK. What few realize is that St. Johns does have close ties to the UK. Newfoundland was in fact a British Colony (not part of Canada) until the late 1940’s. Air Canada does fly YYT – London during the summer months with an A319, so flying the route with a 737NG should be relatively easy.

  17. Bravenav says:

    AS used to fly to Siberia years ago. Since they no longer do, I have to assume it wasn’t a profit center.

  18. Mike says:

    I don’t think this is as foolish as some people think. It looks like they’re borrowing a page from Icelandair and using geography to their advantage. There might not be a lot of originating passengers, but if they can match up their connections nicely, and market things right, then I’m sure there are enough passengers willing to book MCO-DUB (in addition to whatever other local/connecting passengers they can drum up). There currently aren’t any direct flights, and I’d rather connect there than a busy hub.

  19. sjc user says:

    Only western place that WestJet flies to is YYC. The only places that could feed YYT – DUB on WestJet is YYZ, YHZ, YOW, and YYC.

  20. sjc user says:

    Foster Hewitt said Canada, the United States, and Newfoundland; because Newfoundland was a dominion of the UK and did not become a part of Canada until 1949, after HNIC started in 1931.

  21. CF says:

    Noah Kimmel – The Orlando flight is unrelated to the Dublin one. That one appears to operate weekly in the winter.

    D-ROCK – This was just announced so I haven’t heard about partnerships, but I doubt it. As mentioned in other comments, Aer Lingus is a competitor on the Toronto route. Also, nothing would really connect going west anyway.

    davywavy – I see this very differently than I saw the Sun Country flight via Gander for a few reasons. 1) WestJet already flies Toronto to St John’s, so this is just a short redeye being tagged on. Sun Country had to dedicate an airplane to fly from Minneapolis with the stop, spend a full day in London, and then come back. That’s far more costly. 2) WestJet can carry people on the nonstop from St John’s, direct from Toronto, or connecting from Halifax or Ottawa. Sun Country could only carry people originating in Minneapolis (I’m not counting double connections.) 3) Sun Country flew it once a week whereas WestJet will fly it daily. That may be more risk, but it does mean it’s a viable flight for the business traveler, however many there may be.

  22. Greg Wesson says:

    Newfoundland didn’t join Canada until 1949, from 1907 until 1949 it was the Dominion of Newfoundland (both self-governed and then governed by London after falling into economic distress). So that is why Hewitt used to call it out separately in the opening. He’d also welcome “hockey fans in United States.”

  23. Jason says:

    Really interesting read and comments, thanks for sharing

  24. JayB says:

    Thanks! I’m dating myself to the ’50s. I never really heard of Newfoundland before hearing Foster and was never quite sure why he singled out Newfoundland. And yes, as you noted, he did say welcome to hockey fans in the United States.

    To me, Foster Hewitt (“He scores!”) and Nova Scotia’s Danny Gallivan (“They score!” and on the “soapbox”) were just the most wonderful Canadian ambassadors I ever heard. When in my local Hershey Sports Arena visits, I always thought maybe this is sort of Maple Leaf Gardens-like and as close as I’ll ever get to see it. I did make a pilgrimage to the Forum, standing room, of course, and well, sorry.

    What does all this have to with WestJet service from St. John’s to Dublin? Well, dear WestJet, have you thought about selling seats to Sudbury? That landscape there is really something!

  25. Sean says:

    Also the one thing most people haven’t brought up here; Newfoundland is the Canadian equivalent of Boston as far as Irish emigrants go. Their not shooting for tourist trade but family visits.

  26. David Perry says:

    Well, they sure got me. My wife and I are combining a trip to her family in the Maritimes with a flight from Halifax, connecting in St. John’s and on to Dublin. We will later head to Scotland, and return back to Western Canada on Icelandair. The price was right, and what’s more, they sell one way tickets, unlike most of the airlines flying to Europe, which makes the return leg possible. By the way, after many years of almost going, we finally got to Newfoundland a couple of years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a most scenic or friendly place anywhere.

  27. Vinnie says:

    The Canadian ambassador in Ireland is a Newfoundlander and there are strong connections between the two islands which can be further explored with this new route

  28. Chris St Clair says:

    WestJet might also know something else not considered .. there is a large contingent of folks from the British Isles who work in Newfoundlands ever expanding offshore oil industry. Much of the work being done off shore and the construction of rigs onshore has been undertaken by the likes of BP & Shell. While in St John’s last fall I talked with many from the UK who work schedules of 3 weeks on 2 off.

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  30. Hockey Mom says:

    Well we happily booked our West Jet flight from Ottawa to St. John’s and then on to Dublin. For one, the main reason, is the price! We are a family of 4 and the comparable prices back in Dec 2013 when we booked was about $1400-$1500 per person for travel in July 2014. The West Jet flight was about $850! No brainer. Yes, we have to pay for a hotel for 2 nights in Dublin (one on arrival and one on departure) and for flights from Dublin to UK and back. But, we spent maybe $600 on all of those so we are still ahead. Flights from Dublin to other places in Europe (in our case to Birmingham, England and from Glasgow, Scotland) are CHEAP as are hotels near the airport! We have to ensure we only pack 20kilos though to ensure our luggage weight doesn’t go over for our Aer Lingus amounts for flights to UK. The other benefit is showing our kids two other beautiful cities we hadn’t planned on visiting! We’ll take a taxi from St John’s airport into town and show them around a bit, have a nice dinner out before heading back for our flight to Dublin. The layover is about 6 hours I think so plenty of time to explore a bit as the airport is quite close to town. Also, when we arrive in Dublin, we have a free shuttle to the hotel and they’ll gladly hold our luggage while we hop on a local bus for Dublin. We plan to take the day easy (as I know we’ll be jet lagged and tired) so likely doing a Hop On / Off bus tour. I was thrilled to find this deal with West Jet. It made our trip much more reasonable and allowed us to spluge on some 5 star accommodations while in the UK. The 3rd reason…I hate long flights so a short flight from Ottawa to St John’s and then a long break before another short flight from St. John’s to Dublin works for me!

  31. hallett says:

    Just got off the flight; less then 3 & 1/2 to Dublin, and then back again in under 4 hours. Quicker then a flight to Toronto on most days.

    For a short trip overseas, it was cheap and very easy, and Dublin airport is a doddle compared to our alternative, Heathrow.

    This is the second trip to Ireland I have taken this year, and on all four flights every single seat was blocked – so somebody likes this flight!

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