Bold: WestJet Goes All-In On Calgary

Bold: WestJet Goes All-In On Calgary

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WestJet, Canada’s second largest airline, has spent the past several years seemingly without a strategy, trying to be all things to all people in Canadian aviation. The airline has now committed to a new vision, which seems pretty logical on the surface.

WestJet & Alberta government to partner

WestJet and Alberta’s government have announced a partnership, whereby WestJet will grow considerably at Calgary International Airport (YYC). While this is already WestJet’s biggest hub, and the only airport where WestJet has a lounge, the airline will be even more invested in the community:

  • WestJet will double capacity in Calgary before the end of the decade; WestJet recently increased its Boeing 737 MAX order, which will facilitate much of the growth
  • WestJet will use Calgary as its exclusive global connecting hub, so all seven Boeing 787s will be based there for intercontinental service

As it’s described, this partnership is intended to make Alberta the most cost-competitive aviation market in Canada, promote the province to the world, drive sustainability, enhance post-secondary programs, and improve skilled labor supply for the aviation sector.

With this, we’ll see the government invest in developing Alberta’s aviation sector:

“The agreement between the airline and the Government of Alberta will see the government invest in developing Alberta’s aviation sector. It further lays out strategic, collaborative priorities to ensure provincial policies are aligned and in support of the development of the entire aviation industry in Alberta. The Government of Alberta and the WestJet Group will seek opportunities to address the overall cost-competitiveness challenges for the sector.”

Here are some of the highlights of the partnership:

  • Travel Alberta will provide additional funding in support of travel and tourism efforts
  • Work will be done to address the challenges associated with high aviation fuel prices
  • Access will be improved to pilot training, with investment and expansion of the Mount Royal University pilot training program
  • There will be funding of an annual hiring training grant to ensure support for training and other associated costs
  • There will be a commitment to developing sustainable aviation fuel capacity in Alberta as central to economic diversification and reducing carbon emissions
  • The government of Alberta and WestJet will seek opportunities to enable growth through strategic public and private investments that support the aerospace and aviation sector
WestJet will base all Boeing 787s in Calgary

I don’t envy the position WestJet is in

On the surface this seems to me like a smart move on WestJet’s part. WestJet is focusing on its core strength, which is its presence in Calgary. Previously the airline seemed to be all over the place and was almost trying to compete directly with Air Canada, which didn’t seem like a great strategy.

Bigger picture, I just can’t help but point out what an incredibly challenging aviation market Canada is. Canada is a huge country (marginally larger than the United States in terms of land mass) with only 38 million people. The country is highly seasonal, and the population is heavily concentrated in several major cities (roughly 13 million people live in the greater Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver areas).

In addition to Air Canada being Canada’s global airline, you have a seemingly endless number of new ultra low cost carriers entering the market, plus you have Porter expanding significantly.

That puts WestJet in a tough position, as the airline most closely competing against Air Canada. Calgary is Canada’s fourth largest city (the population is around 1.3 million), and it’s also one of Canada’s most affluent cities. Alberta has pretty central geography in Canada (though it’s much closer to Vancouver than Toronto), and I’d say that’s probably more of a curse than a blessing.

So while I think it ultimately makes sense for WestJet to try to focus on its biggest hub, I can’t help but wonder how much growth Calgary can sustain. Beyond actual demand for travel to & from Calgary, how much connecting traffic can the airport reasonably expect to get?

  • With Canada’s population being so heavily centered around a few big cities, there are quite a few nonstop options for major markets; while there are some smaller markets where connecting service is needed, there probably won’t be enough demand to fill Boeing 737 MAX 10s
  • By not being on a coast, there are fairly limited international markets where a connection in Calgary is efficient; you’re not going to want to fly from Eastern Canada to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Europe via Calgary, and you’re not going to want to fly from Western Canada to Hawaii or many points in Mexico via Calgary

So while I think WestJet is on the right track with focusing on Calgary, I’m skeptical about the concept of the airline being able to massively grow at the airport in a profitable way.

WestJet is committing itself to Calgary

Bottom line

WestJet is doubling down on Calgary, thanks to a new partnership with Alberta’s government. The airline will exclusively fly its Boeing 787s from Calgary, and will also double capacity at the airport before the end of the decade.

WestJet has struggled to decide on a strategy in recent years, so I think this is a move in the right direction. Still, I’m skeptical about how much profitable growth is realistic in Calgary.

What do you make of WestJet’s new strategy?

Conversations (61)
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  1. Kiwi (also a Canuck) Guest

    Hate to be the geography police but in Canada Toronto and Ontario are considered Central Canada along with Manitoba. Eastern Canada is Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI along with the Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Oh and as every Canadian knows the Great Plains begin at the 100th meridian (ht tragically hip)

  2. Atul Thanki Guest

    Question is can Westjet replicate Emirates Air, which started off as one city airline.

  3. Peter Guest

    Don't underestimate the potential for competing with the American carriers for connecting transoceanic traffic. SFO > YYC > LGW a pretty logical routing, for example (with a tempting business product), and a theoretical NYC > YYC > Asia route could make a ton of sense.

  4. Jepo Guest

    Yes, you do want to fly from Western Canada to Hawaii and Mexico is you live in Western Canada. Dumbest Stateline this article.

  5. Norm Singer Guest

    So "The Bastion of Free Enterprise" Alberta is going to support Westjet? Gave up flying with them years ago and no chance now if I have to go through Calgary. Almost as bad as Toronto.

  6. Eric Guest

    Canadian Rockies are one of world's major attractions. There are high demands from Europe, Asia and Middle East countries. As a world traveler and a Calgarian, I have been to 27 countries around the world. Banff and Jasper are definitely world class attractions. There are many similar families like us have strong purchase power for tourism and would like to explore the world. 50% Albertan families do NOT have mortgage.

    1. Inedible timhoho Guest

      >>

      Then why are there so few international flights @YYC?

  7. Speedbrake Guest

    Greyhound attemted this strategy by making Winnipeg it’s main hub because it’s center to the country. All flight were departing and going to Winnipeg. They didn’t last six months of I remember, they went bankrupt. The concept is nice, but not financially a good strategy. Possibly ok for western market, but definitely not for the eastern market.

  8. Scott Guest

    As a Calgarian living in Singapore, I can only hope this means direct flights from somewhere in Asia to YYC at some point.

  9. Mark G Guest

    I think it all comes down to price doesn’t it. Westjet is far more reliable than AC so they will automatically get some business off of that. If they can offer attractive pricing then I could see them pulling it off. I would go out of my way to fly them over AC.

  10. Jaded platinum Guest

    Flew out of YYC on a DL ticket on WJ tin a few weeks back. Was treated well, and I have to say the WestJet Lounge makes most Skyclubs look like shit. Given the issues AC has had at YYZ.... not a bad alternative for my Canadian trips, especially as my status match with AC is about to expire....

  11. Louis Fried Guest

    Westjet just lost my business. By concentrating all its energy and efforts on Calgary, it has alienated those of us who live in eastern Canada or on the west coast.

  12. Lisa Guest

    Living in Calgary, I love this. But flying out of YYC the other night around dinner time, the lounge was turning Silver level WS members with lounge passes and all Priority Pass because they have 3-4 787s leaving every night and they have to make sure they have space for all the people in pods, and all their Gold and Plat members. It’s nuts. On a separate note, the WS lounge is absolutely phenomenal now....

    Living in Calgary, I love this. But flying out of YYC the other night around dinner time, the lounge was turning Silver level WS members with lounge passes and all Priority Pass because they have 3-4 787s leaving every night and they have to make sure they have space for all the people in pods, and all their Gold and Plat members. It’s nuts. On a separate note, the WS lounge is absolutely phenomenal now. It is basically on par with a first class European lounge with their restaurant style menu.

  13. Jason Guest

    So Westjet has gone from being the Southwest of Canada to being the Jetblue of Canada to trying to be the Virgin Australia of Canada and is now going to be the Alaska of Canada?

    1. SRN Guest

      And failing miserably at every incarnation…..

    2. Jepo Guest

      Failing how? They are a way better airline than any other Canadian carrier.

  14. Leigh Gold

    Calgary is a nice city and obviously the energy capitol of Canada, and the Canadian Rockies are of course stunning for a getaway any time of year....but in my many business trips to Calgary (from the US) it always feels like a "town" more than a "city". I do really like the airport and the locals are lovely.

    But as a base for the international fleet and future large fleet of 737-10 MAX's, it...

    Calgary is a nice city and obviously the energy capitol of Canada, and the Canadian Rockies are of course stunning for a getaway any time of year....but in my many business trips to Calgary (from the US) it always feels like a "town" more than a "city". I do really like the airport and the locals are lovely.

    But as a base for the international fleet and future large fleet of 737-10 MAX's, it seems a stretch. For connecting traffic you have few populations centers to the West, of course mainly Vancouver, which also limits connecting traffic from the East.

    Being an armchair commentator, for long-haul international markets for the 787's I'm making the assumption LHR, and then Asia/SoPac, with the 737-10 MAX heavy on the sunnier destinations south of the border and larger US cities, and Hawaii with assumption that it has the range.

    Good luck to WestJet!

  15. JSS Guest

    Living in Edmonton, I avoid YYC at all costs. Nothing against the airport or the city, but the provincial government and WestJet made a decision to focus all on one city, leaving another similar city with poor flight connections and essentially a feeder airport.
    This is a political move to stick it to Edmonton for not voting for the ucp government, and WestJet for hubbing every international flight through YYC. In the long run,...

    Living in Edmonton, I avoid YYC at all costs. Nothing against the airport or the city, but the provincial government and WestJet made a decision to focus all on one city, leaving another similar city with poor flight connections and essentially a feeder airport.
    This is a political move to stick it to Edmonton for not voting for the ucp government, and WestJet for hubbing every international flight through YYC. In the long run, I feel WestJet’s strategy will not work well.

    If necessary, my connection points are airports either in Toronto or Vancouver. Just to stick it to WestJet.

  16. globetrotter Guest

    Just flew back from Calgary a week ago after a week stay. Calgary is the oil capital city of Canada akin to Houston. If you take a highway from Calgary to Lake Louise and on to Jasper, it is quite breathtaking. Tranquility and pure nature. No traffic. No crowd. No pollution and trash. There are turquoise lakes with three shades like ocean in Seychelles. Many previous commentators displayed an utter lack of knowledge of our...

    Just flew back from Calgary a week ago after a week stay. Calgary is the oil capital city of Canada akin to Houston. If you take a highway from Calgary to Lake Louise and on to Jasper, it is quite breathtaking. Tranquility and pure nature. No traffic. No crowd. No pollution and trash. There are turquoise lakes with three shades like ocean in Seychelles. Many previous commentators displayed an utter lack of knowledge of our northern neighbor. I will never waste money and points/miles to fly in premium cabins on domestic flights within US-Canada- Mexico, after I see them. Nobody on OMAAT will remotely fly American/ Canadian carriers overseas anyway. It is ludicrous to even suggest premium cabins and airport lounges on domestic flights. Suck it up and quit bitching. Complaining about foreign customs agents? Look in your own backyard. The world does not look friendly and positively towards Americans like you imagine/ demand, but it loves US entertainment and technology.

  17. John T Guest

    Calgary is in the center of Canada?!?

  18. yyc Guest

    fellow Calgarian here! I like the idea of YYC becoming an international hub. The challenge is getting enough people to choose YYC as their transit point. Maybe WS is looking to service the Pacific in the near future. Oh, one can wish!

    1. Poshspice Guest

      It's pretty ambitious, but an average American or non Canadian person doesn't even know where that is?
      Also, there's no market for Calgary to be a hub. Any average US cities have more international flights than Calgary. Not many US flights from Calgary or international flights.
      Not to mention that Calgary isn't popular destination at all.
      Why would you wanna go through a depressing airport with outdated facilities,
      immigration, and extremely...

      It's pretty ambitious, but an average American or non Canadian person doesn't even know where that is?
      Also, there's no market for Calgary to be a hub. Any average US cities have more international flights than Calgary. Not many US flights from Calgary or international flights.
      Not to mention that Calgary isn't popular destination at all.
      Why would you wanna go through a depressing airport with outdated facilities,
      immigration, and extremely unpolished service people?

    2. Lisa Guest

      If you’re in Canada, you don’t have much choice lol. YYC has been going through massive updates the last few years - still has a ways to go on food and lounges, but it’s getting better.

    3. Saintsbury fan Guest

      One thing I like about Canadian airports, they have 7-11 stores.
      I have only transited via YVR, YYC, and YYZ, but they all had 7-11 on deperture level. 7-11 is much better than usual Hudson stores to get little things.

  19. Pathfinder Fab Guest

    It won't succeed. It won't happen for sure.
    YYC doesn't even have any E gates and their racist immigration officers unnecessarily give you a hard time to enter if you are non white. Even for a transit.
    Pathetic attempt.
    Who would wanna transfer flights at that kinda place?

    1. Santos Guest

      Canadian immigration officers really are the worst on the planet. So incongruous considering the friendliness and warmth of the Canadian people. I've actually had an immigration officer at YYC fling my passport at me and say, "just get out of here." Unbelievable.

    2. Richmond Guest

      I cant say for everyone but having landed several times in YYC, I will not consider any of my encounter with Canada Border Agents racist. They have all been professional, this is coming from person of colour.

      The initiative by Alberta Government and WJ is good but I still believe they need to do more to divest the economy of the province. Refineries and petro chem industries needs to be built. Build High speed...

      I cant say for everyone but having landed several times in YYC, I will not consider any of my encounter with Canada Border Agents racist. They have all been professional, this is coming from person of colour.

      The initiative by Alberta Government and WJ is good but I still believe they need to do more to divest the economy of the province. Refineries and petro chem industries needs to be built. Build High speed trian via Edmonton Calgary and if possible consider linking it to the proposed Vancouver Seattle line.

    3. Bill Gr Guest

      I don't know where you studied Canadian geography but 75 percent of Canada is east of Alberta.

    4. BigG Guest

      Calgary is the training airport for Canadian airport border services and also airport security. Staff is on a test so they are extra unbearable . They calm don when they finally get posted .

    5. azamaraal Guest

      Anybody who has ever had to transit via the US!

    6. SRN Guest

      As an Anglo Saxon Canadian, I can assure you the so called “immigration officers” are rude and unprofessional to everyone. Being a jerk is a requirement to be hired by Canadian Border Services.

  20. DenB Diamond

    "connecting" traffic? In all of Canada only YVR has International Transit facilities. Is there a market for Americans to board a Westjet 737, collect their bags in a place they never heard of, line up for an interview with a government officer to "enter" Canada, then "check in" for a flight to somewhere? Westjet is a LCC. The rest is lipstick. If they put proper premium cabins and service fleet-wide and joined Oneworld, I'd consider not ignoring them.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      You're confusing low cost carrier with low fare carrier... not that the line between the two hasn't been thoroughly blurred over the last two decades anyway.

    2. DenB Diamond

      I doubt I'm confusing it. I'm expressing my opinion about Westjet. Perhaps you disagree.

    3. Azamaraal Guest

      Westjet isn't a Low Cost Carrier unless you are flying from YYZ

  21. will Guest

    personal advice. London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Delhi, Hongkong or Tokyo, Brazil could be profit destinations

    1. JP Guest

      Doubtful of the viability of a year round daily route for YYC-NRT/HND; AC abandoned that route in favour of YUL-NRT for a reason.

      Close proximity to YVR with its multitude of established and competitive options to Asia doesn't really help WS either (as does AC adding a YVR-BKK route starting in Dec).

  22. AlanD Guest

    I’d love to know some of the data on US pax using Westjet international flights via connections from the US. It will surely decrease for those East of the Mississippi flying east given the trek to YYC instead of YYZ.
    Is there a plan to preserve the 737 transatlantic flights from YHZ and YYT?

  23. T- Guest

    Good for WestJet and good for Alberta. I believe that with their partnership they aim to grow into a much greater tourist destination. Alberta & Calgary are the gate way to the Canadian Rocky Mountains and Calgary is a dynamic city to visit. Calgary is both cosmopolitan & modern with a western flare.

    1. ASDA sucks Guest

      >Calgary is both cosmopolitan & modern with a western flare.>>>

      Are you blind?
      Have you ever EVEN been to any US mediocre cities? Calgary makes Milwaukee look like Paris.
      Calgary is more like a village in TX.

  24. Chris Guest

    One piece of feedback is that I wouldn't consider Calgary or Alberta anywhere near the center of the country. It's firmly in the west and about an hour in the air from Vancouver. The geographic center of the country is closer to Winnipeg, which is about 1300km east of Calgary.

    All in all it's pretty clear that WJ is abandoning the Eastern Canadian market. They've made previous moves along those lines, but this is the...

    One piece of feedback is that I wouldn't consider Calgary or Alberta anywhere near the center of the country. It's firmly in the west and about an hour in the air from Vancouver. The geographic center of the country is closer to Winnipeg, which is about 1300km east of Calgary.

    All in all it's pretty clear that WJ is abandoning the Eastern Canadian market. They've made previous moves along those lines, but this is the final surrender. It's a shame because it reduces us back to having one national carrier and a bunch of low-cost and regional options (even if some of those airlines like Porter are international, they're still regional). It also puts the nail in the coffin for a lot of routes to the under serviced and unserved markets throughout the country.

    1. Bob Guest

      I mean, they are called "WestJet". It's in the name...

  25. Justin Guest

    It's a bold strategy to be sure. I haven't read the details but to what extent does it rely on government support? If it's a lot that worries me about its sustainability and also how much of this is a legitimate business case or political wishful thinking.

    Separately, Westjet is not just much larger than Air Canada in Calgary but has a much stronger presence in other prairie cities too like Edmonton and Winnipeg...

    It's a bold strategy to be sure. I haven't read the details but to what extent does it rely on government support? If it's a lot that worries me about its sustainability and also how much of this is a legitimate business case or political wishful thinking.

    Separately, Westjet is not just much larger than Air Canada in Calgary but has a much stronger presence in other prairie cities too like Edmonton and Winnipeg and British Columbia in general. The combined 4 Western province population is still only about 12 million though, so I wonder to what extent it will be able to grow that much given its existing fleet was designed for a national strategy. I feel that they need a couple of really good US and Global partners to ensure better international connectivity.

  26. iv Guest

    WestJet should focus on International flights out of YVR to the pacific region such as HKG, NRT, MNL, SIN, etc.. They should open a lounge in YVR.

    1. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      Delta might have some veto power over that given their on-again, off-again relationship and Delta's hub in Seattle.

    2. SRN Guest

      Worst thing Delta did was to use WestJet to feed traffic to Seattle. Who wants to fly on one of their Q400s? The absolute worst plane ever, and Bombardier’s CRJs are a close second.

      WestJet can’t decide if they want to be low cost or full service and they’re stuck in the middle doing a poor job of both (as many have said).

    3. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      Like flying 2 hours in WestJet's domestic first cabin (whatever they call it) from YYZ with no water, no real food, and only one beverage service with wine that retails for about 3 euros in France.

      The flight attendants and captain told me WestJet doesn't put water on its planes for the lavatory sinks or potable water for coffeemakers because of the added fuel cost.

      WestJet's domestic fleet and its forward-cabin product are...

      Like flying 2 hours in WestJet's domestic first cabin (whatever they call it) from YYZ with no water, no real food, and only one beverage service with wine that retails for about 3 euros in France.

      The flight attendants and captain told me WestJet doesn't put water on its planes for the lavatory sinks or potable water for coffeemakers because of the added fuel cost.

      WestJet's domestic fleet and its forward-cabin product are an embarrassment for someone coming from Delta.

    4. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      As a Delta customer, I'd much rather connect to WestJet at Calgary for flights to Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur than fly to Seoul or Shanghai for connections on Korean and China Eastern.

    5. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      "should" because of what, exactly?

      If they're concerned with competing with AC... why on earth would they want to go up against AC *and* CX, JL/NH, PR, SQ, etc; all of which they'd have to do, if taking up your suggestion?

  27. akhenaton Guest

    Just wanted to comment on your photo of "Calgary" near the bottom of the post. Please change that, what is that supposed to show? Is that farmland that is 2 hours outside of Calgary?

    1. Todd Scheven Gold

      Came here to say the same.

      Talk about playing to the average American's view of Canada. Christ, Ben.

    2. Pathfinder Fab Guest

      It won't succeed. It won't happen for sure.
      YYC doesn't even have any E gates and their racist immigration officers unnecessarily give you a hard time to enter if you are non white. Even for a transit.
      Pathetic attempt.
      Who would wanna transfer flights at that kinda place?

    3. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ akhenaton -- It was intended to be a pretty picture I took on approach to Calgary. Nothing more and nothing less. I didn't suggest that was the city. I went ahead and put in a new picture instead. Hopefully you guys find that less offensive...

    4. YYC-ZRH New Member

      @Ben, Calgarian here. I loved the original picture! It's the familiar view of home after returning from a long trip. The prairies have their own that I find is underappreciated.

    5. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ YYC-ZRH -- Hah, thanks! Frankly when I posted the picture, I was reminded of how much I want to explore Alberta, because it looks gorgeous (and I know the area has so much more to offer beyond that).

    6. Alyssa from middle of nowhere Guest

      I loved that picture, too. It perfectly captured what Calgary area was.
      I have been to Calgary for quite a few time and it's just like a middle of nowhere TX. I ran into many rugged looking guys as well.
      Downtown is more like a ghost town day and night. Literally nothing to see around. But I like the nature there and its clean air. Very relaxing.

    7. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Fuck these whiny-ass people. It's your site, post what you like.

      It was a completely benign photo, and the approach into the area is astonishing in its natural beauty.

    8. DenB Diamond

      It was never offensive

  28. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

    My biggest problems with WestJet are (1) their Third-World domestic product (they fly turboprop planes with domestic first-class but WITHOUT potable water for flights of 2 hours or more) and the lack of a WestJet lounge at Toronto.

    That aside, this is interesting, especially with the on-again, off-again relationship between WestJet and Delta Air Lines. I might consider flying XXX-Minneapolis-Calgary-Asia if WestJet starts flying to Asia airports that Delta has abandoned or never served.

    ...

    My biggest problems with WestJet are (1) their Third-World domestic product (they fly turboprop planes with domestic first-class but WITHOUT potable water for flights of 2 hours or more) and the lack of a WestJet lounge at Toronto.

    That aside, this is interesting, especially with the on-again, off-again relationship between WestJet and Delta Air Lines. I might consider flying XXX-Minneapolis-Calgary-Asia if WestJet starts flying to Asia airports that Delta has abandoned or never served.

    At the same time, with WestJet essentially abandoning Canada east of Calgary, Delta needs to start flying its own metal again into Canada. Getting to Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax and elsewhere can be very difficult.

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Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ akhenaton -- It was intended to be a pretty picture I took on approach to Calgary. Nothing more and nothing less. I didn't suggest that was the city. I went ahead and put in a new picture instead. Hopefully you guys find that less offensive...

5
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ YYC-ZRH -- Hah, thanks! Frankly when I posted the picture, I was reminded of how much I want to explore Alberta, because it looks gorgeous (and I know the area has so much more to offer beyond that).

4
ConcordeBoy Diamond

Fuck these whiny-ass people. It's your site, post what you like. It was a completely benign photo, and the approach into the area is astonishing in its natural beauty.

3
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