WestJet’s New Plan: Go West Yet Again

Westjet

As the name suggests, Canada’s WestJet began life in the West of Canada, based in its home of Calgary. Since its early days, the airline has grown every which way, and now it thinks it has overextended itself. Under new CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech — who took over in February from now-retired Ed Sims — the airline is “securing the future” by putting together a new plan that will refocus back on the West where it all started.

If you’re expecting this to be a paring down of offerings from the now far-flung carrier with its multitude of brands, let me put that to rest. Alexis comes from prolific over-complicator Lufthansa Group, so the complexity of the WestJet experience will remain. It’s just that each part of WestJet will be focused more tightly.

WestJet 737s -“maintain its current premium offerings, with a focus on strengthening its premium leisure segment and corporate premium in the West

The heart of the WestJet operation going back to the beginning is the 737 fleet. And while it began with a focus in the western part of the country, the airline had extended into the eastern provinces.

WestJet 737 Route Map Summer 2022

Growth has been so strong in the east that after Calgary, Toronto has become the airline’s second largest operation. That is followed by Vancouver and everything else falls much further back. So, will this new focus on the West mean the death of Toronto? It’s hard to say.

Alexis is quoted as saying “While we will be investing the majority of our fleet in the West, as a national airline we will maintain a significant presence in the Eastern provinces, primarily through direct connections to our Western cities.”

Looking at this map, this would certainly suggest things aren’t going to be rosy for the airline’s 737 short-haul Europe network nor its Toronto – US/Caribbean flying. The former may die, but I can imagine the latter possibly being turned over to a subsidiary, as I’ll discuss later.

But WestJet could just try to grow its way into a western focus instead. After all, it says that it not only has more than 30 MAXs on order, but it’s also working on a “substantial” new narrowbody order. If all those go to the West, then it looks like the focus has shifted despite there still being a large presence in the East. Still, I’d put my money on reductions with significant transfers to other subsidiaries.

WestJet 787s – “centre … around Western Canada”

One of the bigger changes will be in the 787 fleet. Not only will it shift, but it will also be smaller than planned. Here’s this summer’s route map.

WestJet 787 Route Map Summer 2022

Now the 787s will move away from the East, which means away from Toronto. I’m particularly curious where they’ll go. The airline has six today and presumably will not take the other four it has on order.

The airline already has a limited network from Toronto, but I’m guessing this will mean maybe an extra destination or two from the West. Then again, it looks a lot different in the winter when demand to Europe plummets. It sounds like WestJet’s current management team is really regretting having any of those airplanes.

WestJet Encore Q400s – “shifted and rightsized to focus on Western Canada”

The regional fleet will see the biggest shift, it seems. I’m not sure what “rightsized” means in this context, but it presumably means that there will be noticeably fewer Q400s in the fleet. Here’s a look at the combined Q400 and WestJet Link Saab 340 network.

WestJet Encore/Link Route Map Summer 2022

The way this is worded, I’m assuming that the entire eastern Encore network will be gone. While it’s possible that some 737s could backfill, I’d imagine this flying may just go away completely.

As for WestJet Link, well, it’s not even mentioned. It’s so insignificant that it probably will just continue as is… or not.

Swoop and Sunwing – “significantly enhancing our network to leisure and sun destinations, including through our acquisition of Sunwing”

With all that’s been going on, it’s easy to forget that WestJet is acquiring Sunwing. It already has its ulta-low-fare subsidiary in Swoop, and now Sunwing overlaps with that and adds a broader vacation-package component.

Swoop/Sunwing Route Map Summer 2022

There is a lot of overlap here, but notice how much of the network focuses in the East with flying to warm weather spots in the Caribbean and Florida. My assumption here is that we’ll see a lot more of that Toronto network be turned over to Swoop and/or Sunwing as the main WestJet brand focuses on the more premium offering in the West.

The airline says these network changes will take time, and we won’t really see tangible change until next summer, but change is definitely coming.

9 comments on “WestJet’s New Plan: Go West Yet Again

  1. Be interesting to see if he tries to create a labyrinth like Luftoctopus.

    I thought the conventional wisdom behind the Sunwing aquisition was to diversify into the ‘all inclusive’ space and generate income from A.I. during the long Sun Seeking Season. I guess it is a safe bet that the Sunwing brand will live on as one of the many, many, MANY products to be offered.

  2. Dunno if WestJet corporate likes the 787s, but I sure do as a passenger! Really nice to have the one stops from small-town BC via YYC to CDG and LGW with a very comfortable ride in coach. But they use them quite a lot on YYC-YYZ runs, which can’t be a good use of such an expensive plane, and they only really have the demand for them in the summer.

    (Well, except that a 1:45 minute delay on our regional flight yesterday led to a sprint the length of the Calgary airport to get to the LGW flight along with the first officer, who admonished us not to run because we’d be fine since they weren’t leaving without him, but they had closed the flight and rebooked us 25 hours later. Now we’re on a transatlantic 737 max instead because it gets us to Edinburgh 24 hours later rather than London. Not pleasant.)

  3. Seems like the only place for a western Canadian airline to fly 787s when Europe demand is too soft is Asia from YVR if/when Asia travel ever recovers, unless they go really crazy and fly to SYD. At least it meshes seasonally with Europe demand. Otherwise, a 787 sure does seem like a lot of airplane for WS, lovely as they are.

    1. Alex – Could be some Latin options there. In the winter, I have no doubt they could fill those 787s to the Caribbean and Mexico. I mean, sure, they could do deep south Latin if they wanted, but I don’t imagine demand is that big there. Probably easier to just put those airplanes on the money makers in the winter and then stretch their legs in the summer.

  4. Air Canada is happy. A thorn removed from their eastern flank. One wonders if AC will beef up the West, the way a dentist probes a weakened tooth? Ottawa will not allow a single nationwide carrier.

  5. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that this is an attempt to prioritize profitability over market share.

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