WestJet had the ultimate Valentine’s Day present for its employees and partners yesterday morning (Feb. 14).
The Calgary-based airline gave WestJetters, corporate partners, travel agents and media an opportunity to board its first-ever Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for an exclusive look.
“The 787 is an absolute game changer for our guests, a game changer for WestJet,” Jeff Martin, WestJet’s chief operating officer, told media in the Calgary hangar at WestJet headquarters, where the “Valentine’s Day Show and Shine” preview was held.
The morning was a homecoming for WestJet’s newly-delivered Dreamliner, which, up until recently, was parked in Toronto because it doesn’t actually fit in the airline’s hangar in Calgary (only the nose of the plane was visible to guests as they boarded).
This will change come April when WestJet finishes construction of a new Calgary hangar that’s big enough to fit their 63-metre-long baby, which was named in honour of WestJet’s founder and chairman, Clive Beddoe.
Calgary is a new hub for Dreamliners
The new aircraft represents the first of three Dreamliners WestJet will receive from Boeing this year. Three more will be delivered in 2020, and then four more in 2021, totalling ten.
“We’re growing up from being that leisure airline to recognizing that there are premium travellers in the market who are looking for more options,” Richard Bartrem, vice president of marketing communications at WestJet, told PAX.
The 320-seat aircraft represents a new era for WestJet as it begins longer-range flying while offering passengers the options of Economy, Premium and Business cabins (a WestJet first).
“We’re excited for the travel agent community because it offers choice,” Bartrem said.
The Dreamliner positions WestJet as a player in the global market as the airline prepares to launch direct routes from Calgary to London (Gatwick) on April 28th, followed by direct services from Calgary to Paris (May 17th) and to Dublin (June 1st) this spring and summer.
“We chose Calgary as a Dreamliner hub because when it comes to wide-bodied international services, this market has been, and is today, considerably underserved,” Ed Sims, chief executive officer at WestJet, told reporters.
Calgary has typically had to fit into schedules designed around other airlines' home bases, he said.
“This is our home base. Our evening flight times to London, Paris and Dublin are designed to suit Calgarians, to suit Albertans, first and foremost. The rest of the world can fit around us,” Sims said.
Leading up to the launch of its new international routes, WestJet’s Dreamliner will operate a domestic service between Calgary and Toronto starting February 20th so crews can get acquainted with their new ride.
With that, WestJet will become the first airline to base Dreamliner services at Calgary International Airport.
“It’s going to change what we do and how we compete,” Jane Clementino, WestJet’s director of agency sales, told PAX.
WestJet like you’ve never seen it before
When stepping into the 787-9 Dreamliner for the first time, one thing is clear: this is a WestJet you’ve never seen before.
First impressions all start with the letter W: “Wow,” “Woah,” and “Whoooo!”
Each cabin has its own unique features, and the aircraft as a whole takes comfort and sophistication to new levels thanks to (sexy) black seats, electric-blue mood lighting, larger-than-usual windows, and state-of-the-art engine and air technology.
“We have literally re-thought our product,” Louis Saint-Cyr, WestJet’s vice president of guest experience and in-flight operations,” told reporters, noting WestJet’s new “meal philosophy,” which includes offering complimentary meals to all passengers, regardless of which cabin they’re in.
“[The experience on board] is unique, tailored and it is very personalized,” Saint-Cyr said.
The obvious head-turner is WestJet’s first-ever lie-flat Business Cabin seats – 16 private pods in a 1-2-1 configuration that come with loads of perks, such as hot towel service, unisex amenity kits, a dine anytime menu, a fixed ottoman for foot support, an 18.5 inch touch screen, turn down service and fully extendable privacy panels.Passengers filling the 28 seats in the Premium Cabin also get spoiled – meal, entertainment and comfort luxuries are in abundance. Seat configuration, here, is 2-3-2.
Heck, everyone gets spoiled on this plane. All passengers, regardless of their cabin, receive a complimentary pillow, blanket and, if needed, earbuds.
And let’s not dismiss those 276 très chic seats in the Economy Cabin (configuration 3-3-3). There’s a point when you realize you’re on a horse of a different colour when there’s a self-dimming window by your side, powered by your own fingertips.
If that’s not #badass, I don’t know what is.
“It’s beautiful,” Jelena Jado, a regional manager for corporate stores in British Columbia for Transat Distribution Canada, told PAX. “The Business Cabin...I can’t wait to get my butt in one of those seats.”
Jado was one of many industry pros who toured the aircraft, and praised the Economy Cabin: “Leg room is so important in economy. I’m tall, I’m 5”8, and I had lots of room,” she said.
Dianne Frost, a travel advisor with Journeys by Escapes, said the cabins were “very fresh and modern.”
“The colours are beautiful,” Frost told PAX. “It’s taken [WestJet] to the next level.”
Many travel agents shared remarks on the Dreamliner’s bathrooms, applauding them for being bigger and more accessible.
“I love the big windows, the extra legroom. This is fantastic for WestJet,” said Rick MacSwain of Uniglobe Travel.
Miranda Bukowicki of Escapes.ca said, “It’s something different in the marketplace, for sure,” adding that WestJet is “going to knock it out of the park.”
Quieter engines, less pollution, a smoother ride
The Dreamliner has the “quietest commercial engine that General Electric has ever produced,” Jeff Martin told reporters. It’s fuel efficient, too – 15 per cent more efficient, officials said, in turn emitting less CO2 emissions compared to other aircrafts.
As the Dreamliner is made of carbon fibre, it can pressurize as low as 6,000 feet, which has a positive effect on oxygen in the blood stream.
It means you won’t feel like Dawn of the Dead when you arrive at your final destination. “You’ll arrive feeling more refreshed,” Bartrem told PAX.
You also may be in for a less bumpier ride – the Dreamliner is equipped with flight sensors that detect and damper turbulence by adjusting the necessary controls. “This aircraft is a technology marvel,’ Bartrem said.
A piece of flying Canadiana
The WestJet Dreamliner can travel up to 1,049 kilometres in an hour and up to 14,000 kilometres in range, but takes a piece of Canada along for the ride.
Beyond the fact “The Spirit of Canada” is written on the plane’s exterior, WestJet’s Dreamliner is peppered with Canadian touches.The fabrics on board, for example, were inspired by “the oceans, prairies and forests of Canada,” Richard Bartrem told PAX.
And don’t be alarmed if you hear the call of the loon in your cabin. Yes, WestJet rigged its audio system on the Dreamliner to play sounds of loons on a lake when it’s time to wake up, all in the name of reminding passengers of a “gentle morning in Canada,” Bartrem said.
At the cottage or in the air, it works.
Dreamliners for the greater good
WestJet’s upcoming international routes will support 650 full-time jobs and produce $100 million in economic output, the airline claims.
The three new flights from the UK and Western Europe are also expected to welcome up to 185,000 visitors to Calgary annually, boosting local tourism.
According to Arved von zur Muehlen, WestJet’s chief commercial officer, it’s a “$600 million dollar investment” into Calgary’s tourism and business communities.
One thing is for sure: WestJet has come a long way since 1996 when it was a leisure airline with just three aircrafts serving five destinations in Western Canada with roughly 200 employees.
“It’s exciting to see how far WestJet has come from its grassroots beginnings,” Jacob Kos of Uniglobe Travel, told PAX. “It puts us on the map, in the West.”
For more info on WestJet’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, click here.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!