Let’s pretend you didn’t read the title of this post, and you just randomly happened to see this photo:
If you were told to guess the airline that operated this airplane, what would you pick? If anyone said “WestJet,” then you’re probably a) lying, b) have good enough vision to read that safety card, or c) an employee. But sure enough, this is the new business class cabin on WestJet’s 787s. After seeing this, my mind instantly flashed back to the movie Swingers. “Our little baby’s all growns up….“
As I noted last year, WestJet has had a remarkable run of adding as much complexity to the operation as possible. For most airlines, this would be enough to send the entire business off the rails, but that hasn’t happened. True, things are now looking worse financially now than they have been, so maybe this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But for most airlines, that inflection point would have come long ago. WestJet somehow keeps plugging along.
After a test run using 767s to fly from Canada to Europe with coach and premium economy, WestJet decided it was time to step up its game and go with a full suite of product offerings on a fleet of brand new 787s. As noted in the press release when it placed the order, these airplanes will allow the airline to “serve new destinations in Asia and South America, and to expand its service offerings into the European market.”
Flights don’t go on sale until this fall, and then they won’t take to the air until the spring, but last week, images of the onboard product and a new livery were rolled out.
WestJet keeps talking about how it wants to bring Canada to the world. I had assumed that meant it would dedicate half the inflight entertainment channels to hockey, serve Tim Hortons coffee, and be overly polite about the whole thing, but those details haven’t been ironed out. As far as the design goes, well, Canada did play a part in those details.
I found the use of light and dark interesting. Coach is lighter and brighter, supposed to look like “the alpine lakes” or something like that. Then premium economy is a bit darker influenced by the northern lights. And lastly you have business class which is quite dark and supposed to evoke warm summer Canadian evenings. Frankly, I can’t ever relate to these kind of artsy descriptions, but I am curious about the psychology around the use of colors.
I know nothing about it, but I would think lighter = happier. So if you make the colors lighter and crisper in the back where the experience isn’t as… happy, it might have a mental impact. Darker, on the other hand, feels more upscale. Maybe that comes from years of eating at restaurants where it’s only considered fancy if you generally need a flashlight to read the menu.
The product itself appears to be what you’d expect from a legacy airline that’s trying to provide a world-class experience. Business class has a reverse-herringbone arrangement which is great for privacy. That leaves something to be desired for people traveling together, but that would have been the target of the old WestJet. This clearly looks to target the business traveler, though with what appears to be a relatively modest 4 rows (16 seats), it’s half the size of the cabin Air Canada puts on the same airplane.
In premium economy, the 2-3-2 layout is pretty standard these days. Here’s a look at that.
Meanwhile in coach, along with those alpine lakes, you’ll get a fairly normal 3-3-3 configuration. It comes will all the usual bells and whistles with inflight entertainment and all that, but we don’t know enough about the details to really understand how this will be differentiated from other airlines.
Will there be more legroom than average? It’s not mentioned, but I’d doubt it. There’s promise of great food, at least up front, but we don’t really know yet what that’ll look like.
Unlike the 767 experiment which was more about selling cheap seats, this is going to be about competing with Air Canada and even US carriers (except its joint venture partner Delta) in all cabins, on a global scale. Just as Americans flock to Air Canada to fly overseas via Canada, WestJet has to be expecting the same. The ability to feed Delta passengers into the WestJet network will only help open that spigot.
Like I said, WestJet is all growns up. Anytime you change like that, the checklist says a brand refresh is required. Behold, a new logo, font, and livery:
On the tail, you can see WestJet took its original logo and had it mate with a maple leaf. This basic design isn’t actually new, and WestJet has used it elsewhere previously. But now it will take its place prominently on the tail. Air Canada, of course, has a maple leaf tail of its own, so prepare to watch the airlines fight to the death to prove the rightful owner.
There’s also a new font in the mix. Other than just providing a more current look, this is really meant to de-emphasize “West” as part of the name. That used to be in a different color than “Jet,” but now it’s all one. What confuses me, however, is that if you really want to get people to stop thinking of you as being from “West,” shouldn’t you stop capitalizing the J and make it look like one word? Well, whatever. That stuff is all fluff to me anyway.
We knew the 787s would be outfitted in a more business-friendly configuration, but this is effectively a very good legacy airline product on the surface. The devil will be in the details. It’s quite the leap for what once was a little airline trying to emulate Southwest. I keep expecting it all to crumble one of these days, but so far, I’ve learn I’m better off not betting against the airline.