Topic of the Week: WestJet Goes Widebody


First those crazy Canucks decided to get turboprops. Now it’s time for WestJet to get widebodies. Next year you’ll see them flying from Canada to Hawai’i and then… who knows where. What do you think? Smart or stupid?

15 comments on “Topic of the Week: WestJet Goes Widebody

  1. Seems smart. They have been leasing 757s out west for Hawai’i ops, so now they can control the product better. Their vacation business seems pretty strong, and there is probably money in some Sun markets with a widebody. Is there money in Trans-Atlantic? That I am not sure about, but if AC is going to launch Rouge, then there must be some opportunities. I understand bookings have been strong for Dublin – however I don’t think any conclusions can be made on that.
    Here is a question – If I am a 737 pilot, is it easier/faster/cheaper to transition to be 787 pilot, or would it be the same as becoming a A330 pilot? I get the rational behind having one plane type for you short-haul jets, but are there technical advantages to extending that to widebodies?

    1. I think it’d be easier to transition to a 787 just because Boeing and Airbus have small differences. For instance, Boeing has a big for lack of a better word “handlebar” to control plane movement right in front of the pilot, just like a steering wheel, basically. Airbus uses a joystick to the captain’s left and co-pilot’s right, so there are small things like that to get used to. Most modern jets are mostly glass in the cockpit anyway, so the position of a certain monitor will probably stay close to the same throughout both types.

      A final note: most pilots become incredibly loyal to the type of jet they fly. If you fly Boeing, it’s almost an obligation to hate Airbus and vice-versa, so while it may not affect training, it would certainly be part of some pilots’ decision-making: ‘Would I rather ‘sell out and fly Airbus’, for more money or would I rather keep flying Boeing, for less pay because I love it?’ Of course, my family was pretty comfortable with him as a 737 pilot, so pay increase at that level is not too important for some people. My dad would choose the latter over the former. Maybe there are others who would, too.

  2. I think it is smart and it is about time if the airline is to grow beyond North America. The various types of 737 served West Jet great so far and will no doubt continue to do so for quite some time to come but West Jet can only do so much with narrowbodies. The report did not specify what kind of widebody equipment but the new 787 would be great for many routes out of their headquarters and main hub, Calgary to most anywhere in the world. Now West Jet can really give Air Canada a good run for its money anywhere in the world. Of course West Jet would need to offer complimentary meals if it chooses to compete with Air Canada on intercontinental routes.

  3. I wouldn’t say stupid, but I’m a little uncertain of success. We need to remember that the entire population of Canada is about the same as California, but very geographically dispersed. So is there potentially more demand for transatlantic flights? Maybe. But in my mind, that’s not the question. I would ask if there is enough demand for enough transatlantic flights to drive enough widebodies that WestJet can actually get a decent economy of scale on them? AC already has that so it will be more difficult for WS to compete with them longhaul than it traditionally has been domestically if they can’t get scale.

  4. Only time will tell, but maybe they will have better luck then PSA trying to use L-1011’s between LAX and SFO. But there is a lot of seasonal travel from Canada to Florida and the Caribbean, so using their own widebody aircraft with nonstops from western Canada could work out for them. They could do spring/summer to Europe and fall/winter to sun destinations and maybe make it work.

    A little haha here, within the last week I saw an old ad for Aloha Airlines annoucing they were now flying ‘wide-bodied’ 737’s within Hawaii. And there was a time when airlines marketed the 30 passenger Short 330 prop as ‘wide-body’.

  5. Demand for travel to Europe has grown quite a bit over the past decade due to several factors: the relatively strong Canadian dollar, discounting in Europe (you can stay in comfortable 4* hotels in Berlin, Vienna or Lisbon for less than $100/night), ubiquitous passport use (now effectively mandatory for visiting the nearby U.S.), and stronger VFR demand due to immigration from Ireland, Germany and southern and eastern Europe.

    Yet trans-Atlantic connections could improve further, and WestJet might be thinking about filling these gaps. Mainline connections to northern/western Europe are generally good to excellent; but connections to the south and east involve varying levels of inconvenience: narrow seats and no legroom on the Air Transat and Rouge direct flights; connections through out-of-the-way airports like Amsterdam or best-avoided airports like Newark, Paris CDG or Heathrow; or 6 a.m. departures on the way back to catch the midday westbounds to Canada from the big European hubs.

    WestJet might also sense some vulnerability at Rouge, which has been getting deplorable reviews.

    A final point: some news coverage here has also raised the possibility that WestJet might try its hand at Asia or South America, both of which are growing markets for business, holiday and VFR travel in both directions.

  6. WestJet regularly makes a meal out of an appetizer in its publicity announcements.
    Read carefully and they are trading their Thomas Cook rent-a-planes for purchasing/leasing used planes. New aircraft are several years away.
    While the “new” planes have the range to get WS to parts preferred, the real challenge will be how they frame the passenger experience, especially how they reconfigure a cabin. While there are loyal fans of the airline including the shareholder staff, their current offerings in this regard are: dismal, cramped and feature extremely uncomfortable seats (esp. for anything more than two hours), antiquated cabin entertainment systems on much of their fleet, and new, often non functional cabin entertainment systems on their newer planes and none of them really set up for doing business in flight.
    Hawaii and Caribbean may be hot destinations for their tour operator but they have a long way to go to beat the much bigger Air Canada, especially in the case of the North American business traveller and I am not a great fan of AC but so be it.
    Again WS likes to think big….but the devil is in the details, the execution and the delivery.
    They have work to do…good luck to them,

  7. WestJet started out as a lo-cost carrier. Don’t know why it took so long for Canada to have one but anyway… Since then, they have completely lost the plot even though they have one huge advantage: there is an Air Canada Act but no WestJet Act of parliament. They look more like Air Canada every day which, I maintain, is great news for Air Canada. Yes, I know passengers love them and yes, I know they make money, two things Air Canada would love to claim but can’t. Looking to the future, they have an aging work force moving up the payscale, international is a different game from domestic, they will become increasingly unionized and they have already lost the huge lo-cost benefit of just one aircraft type. Now they plan to make it worse. Canada is littered with the carcases of airlines that could not survive. Here’s the thing: with the population of California strung out over 4000 miles and not as wealthy, the country can sustain only one full-service carrier. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, all have one and one only. WestJet would love to knock Air Canada off its pedestal but it ain’t gonna happen. We’ll see a re-run of the Canadian Airlines thing where they cut each other’s throats and we end up with two dead ducks. To mix my metaphors.

  8. I think they’ve gone about it in a very smart way: Test the market using damp leased aircraft (The 757s were operated by Thomas Cook pilots and Westjet flight attendants.) and make sure its good, then continue from that. This isn’t an America West with a 747 to Japan or a PSA with an L1011, Westjet has studied the market with a successful experiment, now they’re moving forward.

    Yes, the widebodies will have more capacity than a 757-200, but not much. I’m sure they’re not looking at a 777 sized plane, instead they’re aiming for something smaller, like a 762 or 332. The Thomas Cook 757-200s currently have 211 seats for WestJet. A snapshot at configured passenger capacities of smaller widebodies:
    762: 204, 763: 214, 753: 213, 788: 219, 332: 258.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick up a cheap 763 from Boeing or lease on someone’s 762 for a while until they can get a 788 or 332.

    1. The other thing they might be looking at is a reduction in leakage across the land border to Hawaiian’s wide bodies. HA advertises this heavily in Seattle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it in Hawaii as well, of course their passengers would have to connect through SEA, LAX, or SFO.. (Or JFK!)

    2. The thing is that those widebodies are going to cost millions of dollars in operational spending before the planes even touch down at a hub. You have to do things like reconfigure gates, buy ULD loaders, buy/rent ULDs, buy uld carts, and then train people on new loading equipment and procedures. If they move to say 762s you are only geting about a 17-18% increase in capacity from a 752.

    3. I can’t fathom them getting a 762. The remaining active ones are quite old. 332 would make sense, especially since NEO announcement. 763 is an option but availability of quality airframes is pretty scarce. Distressed 788 are too much of a headache. Wonder when they’ll make the announcement.

  9. The long-haul exercise is a new business model in the making, i.e. a test to jump on the learning curve with limited risk. There is still a long way to go to stack the business model building blocks in a commercially viable way for the new and intended value proposition. But given the fact that WestJet is scoring higher and higher in saturation and in our Business Model Expiry Index, they need to innovate and take risks to sustain their overall business.

  10. Well, the profit margin in the airline industry is miniscule! Despite the number of carriers going to Europe, the profit margin over the last 20 years from North America to Europe is under 5% – that’s O & D (meaning just Europe traffic). Airlines like BA, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM and the major flags make a majority of their money on traffic beyond Europe – specifically South Asia (QATAR, Emirates, and Eitahad are all vying for traffic to Africa and South-Central Asia, not the Middle Ease).

    PSA was a successful carrier. In fact, Southwest modeled themselves after PSA. WestJet modeled themselves after Southwest – low cost, single fleet, all coach etc. Though, I realize there is a charter market to Europe in Canada, WestJet will end up competing with 5th freedom carriers that could undercut them in price and flood the market with seats.

    An example is Air India has 5th freedom rights from the US to the UK – AI ORD-LHR. More 5th freedom flights may pop up as foreign carriers look to add incremental revenue. And competing in Europe isn’t always a level playing field.

    I wish WestJet success, but I hope they don’t go the way of PeopleExpress.

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