WestJet’s New 787 Business Class: Almost Amazing, But…

Filed Under: Other Airlines, Travel

Update: See here for my full review of WestJet’s 787-9 business class.

Hello from London! Last night I took a flight I was really excited about. Within the past few days WestJet launched 787-9 service between Calgary and London, which represents an exciting new phase for the airline.

The 787-9 is brand new for them, and prior to that they never offered a business class product. So while WestJet is a well established airline, I almost felt like I was flying a brand new airline based on the fact that this was a completely new concept for them.

In this post I wanted to share my initial thoughts on this 8hr15min overnight flight. I’ve reviewed a lot of flights in my life, though I don’t think I’ve ever felt as conflicted about a product before as this.

WestJet 787 business class cabin & seats

WestJet’s 787-9 business class cabin is intimate, and consists of just 16 B/E Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats. That includes four rows of seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

While many airlines use the entire space between doors one and two on the 787-9 for business class, WestJet has 16 business class seats plus 28 premium economy seats in that space.

The good news is that the business class cabin feels cozy. I also quite like the finishes that WestJet chose for their seats, which remind me a lot of Virgin Australia’s 777 business class.

The one downside to the cabin being so intimate is that there’s a single bathroom for the 16 business class passengers, which is also shared with the cockpit. Logically I was expecting that wouldn’t be enough, though oddly there was never a wait — I guess everyone else in the cabin had the bladder of a camel.

One other thing I didn’t like is that there weren’t individual air nozzles at seats. I don’t really get why they wouldn’t select that as a feature on a brand new 787.

WestJet business class food & drinks

Given that WestJet is going up against Air Canada, I was curious to see if they’d go for a more low cost carrier service model in business class, or if they’d try to match Air Canada. Well, neither.

WestJet’s business class soft product is spectacular. WestJet is almost like Qatar Airways in terms of their food & drinks. They have a dine on demand menu with an extensive selection.

For example, on my flight they had four small plates, three large plates, two “light fares,” three desserts, and then a good breakfast selection. I also loved that they had a focus on Canadian dishes.

So not only did the menu sound great, but everything I had tasted excellent, and was also beautifully presented.

Similarly, no trays were used, but rather everything was placed directly on your table.

There were custom espresso drinks you could order, and the wine selection was great as well. Lanson was their champagne on offer.

The dinner service started with truffle popcorn and drinks. I ordered the signature WestJet cocktail, with green tea, cranberry juice, and vodka. Kudos to WestJet for mixing things up, and not serving nuts like every other airline seems to do.

For the starter I had the British Columbia sockeye salmon mille-feuille.

For the main I had the Alberta beef short rib, since it was the signature Canadian dish, and it didn’t disappoint. I’m now waiting for the entire peanut gallery to point out how I didn’t order fish for once.

For dessert there was a spectacular sour cherry pie.

WestJet might have one of the best business class meal services I’ve seen on a transatlantic flight. There’s a major catch, though, as I’ll get into a bit below.

WestJet business class amenities

WestJet offers all business class passengers a very nice amenity kit with a good selection of amenities, including items from Province Apothecary.

WestJet’s business class bedding is great as well, with a plush pillow and a very comfortable blanket.

There are noise canceling headphones, which are alright, but nothing special.

WestJet 787 business class entertainment & wifi

WestJet’s 787 has a top notch entertainment selection. There’s a huge array of movies and TV shows, in addition to the moving map.

There’s also wifi from Panasonic, with the option of paying 10.99CAD for 90 minutes, or 21.99CAD for the full flight, both with no data caps. The wifi speeds were excellent when I used it.

WestJet business class service

I’m going to split up service into two parts, because yes, there is a catch. 😉

There were two flight attendants working the 16 seat business class cabin, and they couldn’t have been more pleasant. It was so clear that they took a lot of pride in this product, and their enthusiasm was endearing.

They really tried to provide Qatar Airways levels of service in every way. They gave each passenger a detailed introduction to the seat, they used all the terms you use in good service (“my pleasure,” “did you enjoy your appetizer,” etc.), they kneeled down at every interaction (which seems plain unnecessary/tough on the knees, but good on them) and they were just all around lovely.

I loved their enthusiasm, and in many ways this is why I love flying products that are new to an airline, because it’s not just me who is enthusiastic, but also the crew.

In general I find WestJet staff to be friendly and well intentioned, and this flight was no exception.

The massive problem with my WestJet flight

It sounds like I’m about to give this flight a 10/10 rating, eh? Well, there was one huge problem with the flight. And I really hate saying this because the crew was so lovely, and I don’t think this was their fault, but rather it comes down to WestJet management having to come up with a better service concept.

The service was slow. Like really, really, really slow. Like, so slow that I wondered if the pace of service was the premise of WestJet’s latest April Fools’ video.

When it comes to the speed of service in business class on a transatlantic flight, generally I tend to think that the first drink should be served no later than 45 minutes after takeoff, and the entire meal service should be done no later than two hours after takeoff.

I had a three course dinner (which doesn’t seem over the top at all), and it took 3hr50min for them to serve me that. Three hours and fifty minutes. Like, just less than half the flight.

I’ve just never witnessed anything like this before. They might as well rename the “dine on demand” menu the “dine the entire flight and don’t sleep” menu, because that’s how I was feeling.

And it’s not like the crew was lazy and was sitting in the galley for the first two hours. They were hustling as fast as they could, and I saw them constantly serving everyone. But everything was just at such a slow pace.

Just to give you a sense of the timeline:

  • My meal order was taken 40min after takeoff
  • I was served my first drink 1hr25min after takeoff
  • My table was set 2hr40min after takeoff
  • My appetizer was served 3hr after takeoff
  • My main was served 3hr20min after takeoff
  • My dessert was served 3hr40min after takeoff

For the record, this wasn’t a case of asking to be served the meal two hours into the flight. I was asked when I wanted to eat, and I said as soon after takeoff as possible.

Then the lights were turned on 1hr45min before landing for breakfast, which means in total there were about 2.5 hours between when I finished dinner and when breakfast started.

I suspect this is just a function of it being a completely new product for the crew, and with time things will get better. Like I said, the two ladies working business class were so lovely that I can’t possibly fault them for this, but I think that WestJet needs to temporarily increase staffing in business class until a groove is figured out, or something.

WestJet 787 business class bottom line

WestJet’s 787 business class has so much potential. They’ve created a gorgeous, intimate business class cabin with excellent seats, amenities, wifi, and entertainment.

The food quality and selection was exceptional, and in general the service felt more like Qatar Airways than anything else. The crew was also very friendly.

The one glaring problem is the pace of service. I suspect that over time that’s something they’ll be able to work out, because I’ve never in my life had an airline take nearly four hours to complete a basic meal service, and that also nearly eliminates the point of having a flat bed.

WestJet, your business class is so close to being one of the best transatlantic business class products out there. So kudos for that, but work out the issues, please!

Comments
  1. Wow, great to read a review of a brand new business class product. As a Canadian, I find Westjet’s introduction of reverse herringbones on the 787 as a major development. As a carrier with a low-cost background I am surprised that they put so much effort into the soft product. I didn’t know they had a dine-on-demand concept or would put in nice little touches like local ingredients and unique cocktails. Sounds like they did a great job (other than the big issue you pointed out).

  2. this is great – looks nice, and this sounds like teething problems.

    But let’s see your trip reports from your sri lanka trip!! it’s been nearly 2 months since the last update!!

  3. Lucky, your fascination with QR is highly evident here! Not once have you mentioned SQ!

    Back in the day, Lufthansa was, for you, The Best Airline In The World. Now it is QR. It is only J that matters these days, not F.

    That aside, WestJet has really come up as a full-service carrier from its low-cost roots, à la JetBlue. This reflects in the marvellous service.

  4. Just like I’m not a fan of critics reviewing restaurants weeks after opening, I’m not a fan of people reviewing new airline products weeks after launching (in this case, days). Especially an airline that previously didn’t have business class. Give them some time, they’ll iron out the kinks. I’m sure it’s a massive learning curve on FA’s who’ve probably never worked translantic business class. Otherwise, great looking cabin and food. Definitely shows that some care was put into this product.

  5. Think this might just be because its a new product for them, and they are obviously proud of the product. Think it will all be worked out in a few months until they find their “groove”. I would love to try this product.

  6. This looks great. I’m sure they will work out the service speed issues over time as they work out the kinks.

  7. Does it really sound like a teething problem? Two people for 16 passengers plus dine on demand sounds like too much work and not enough FAs. It’s why DL has someone dedicated to the galley on D1 international legs. Yes, I know. More seats.

    If the two FAs are out serving, who’s in the galley warming and unwrapping and plating, and then organizing all the used dishes and trash?

    Sounds like the only thing that fixes that concept is a third FA.

  8. SQ has the same problem. The dining exercise takes about 2,5 hours. I rather have the KLM experience. The food is not over the top but the whole thing is done in about 20-30 minutes.

  9. @ron…not sure which flight you are on that it takes SQ 2.5 hours. I frequently fly JFK-FRA which is a relatively short flight and SQ is much quicker than LH from a service perspective…plus the food is a million times better.

  10. Do you know when their party in the sky is going to be bookable? It looked…exclusive. With models.

    It was announced around April fools?

  11. This is great – you can earn DL miles with them right?

    Fares look not cheap so not yet a bargain hunter option.

  12. Thanks for the great review.

    Did Ben notice whether there was a “Galley Witch” (G/W) FA? Standard FA crew positions have one FA do nothing but be the J class cook. Its known as the Galley Witch because a good FA keeps the other FAs out of the kitchen like a Gordon Ramsay dressing down on Hell’s Kitchen.

    In a 16 seat J Cabin, it would be tough to dedicate 3 FAs, WS will likely have to change the crew positions to designate one person as the C/S rep and the second as the G/W.

  13. I agree with Neal S. and don’t buy into the learning curve theory. I think it comes down to not having a full-time FA in the galley making drinks, plating food, etc. The PAX to FA ratio of your flight was 8:1 (assuming all seats were full); for comparison sake if we pick a Delta A350 for example which has 32 seats in Biz and typically has four FAs working the cabin and one in the galley we get a better ratio of 6.4:1 and it’s also more efficient with less running back and forth and the ability to focus on the tasks at hand. Dinner in under 2hrs is almost guaranteed.

    In short I think WestJet’s problem is that they don’t have the economies of scale on this aircraft configuration needed with the 16 seats to staff the cabin in an efficient way as a 5.3:1 (adding 1 FA) probably doesn’t pencil out for them.

  14. Yep, we had the same issue on Monday for LGW-YYC.
    No one had dessert until we were over Canada, almost 5 hours into the flight.

    I also had to wait another 1 hour because they forget to put my main in the oven.

    It was still an enjoyable flight though.

  15. Whoever SQ fanboys here should fly them more frequently. Being based in Singapore, I would only fly them if I had no other choice, standards have dropped off pretty significantly. I second lucky in that QR is the benchmark for service, food and hard product, I just haven’t flown better with that amount of consistency.

  16. @Christian

    Flights from SIN-LHR, AMS,FRA and SIN-NRT,LAX,SFO

    Agree that quality is above LH but I immensely dislike slow meals. The only route where SQ gets it done <30mts is on CGK-SIN.

  17. Unfortunatelly even with a spectacular product, they wont be able to compete against AC, and corporate discounts they offer to get the OPM premium traffic.

    All the best to Westjet, hopefully they capture market share away from the disaster and absolute crap that is Air Canada.

  18. @JW: Having lived in Singapore too, I get the impression that Singaporeans have a bit of a love-hate relationship with SQ. On the one hand, they’re proud of the airline for being a sort of ‘national champion’ and how the strong brand reflects on the country. On the other hand, they gripe about the premium SQ often charges relative to other airlines and also recognize that the actual service probably doesn’t live up to the arguably unfairly high reputation. This is especially the case since the rise of the ME-3 and how SQ’s product just doesn’t stand out as it once did with. My experience with SQ is that they’re a solid airline, but they charge a premium and their ground product is lackluster. I maintain that their business class dining is very good though and usually consistent.

  19. I don’t know who they’re aiming their product at. Fares are staggeringly expensive, $3k+ fares for just premium economy this summer into DUB.

    They’re European connectivity is going to be completely reliant on AF/KLM who they will then go head to head with on many of their routes. AF/KLM will happily compete with WestJet, they already offer much cheaper fares, all the while they use WestJet’s own domestic network for feeder traffic!

    Again I have no idea about the market positioning of this product. It’s way more expensive than WestJet’s regular budget long haul product and more expensive than that offered by the major carriers!?

  20. The slow service sounds exactly like my experience with QSuites. Took 4 hours to just get me the first plate from GRU-DOH. Still best airline, Qatar that is

  21. “Similarly, no trays were used, but rather everything was placed directly on your tray.”

    Help! A paradox has occurred!

  22. “For example, on my flight they had four small plates, three large planes…”

    Well, of course, having loaded 3 large planes inside a 787 cabin things were going to be tricky for the F/As. For one thing, I imagine there wasn’t much space left in the aisles.

  23. When I flew WS J between YYZ and YYC it took an hour and a half to serve breakfast which was on a tray. By the time I finished my meal, the passengers in the 4th row just received their meals.

    Like you, I don’t think it was a lazy crew by any means, just not sure what exactly took so long since all they had to do was place the entree and pour a drink.

    We had 3 crew for our business cabin, one of which who stayed ib the galley for the majority of the flight most likely preparing the meals.

  24. Good review and a very important part about service times. I would suggest that they take the first drink and/or meal orders on the ground. That should help speed up the initial part of the service.

    Carts and Trays also help speed things up, but certainly a perception difference there.

    Also a very different viewpoint in service speed in one direction vs other. Overnight, you want the sleep time. Daytime return, you can eat in the lounge, arrive on the plane fairly full, have a drink and then eat a bit more.

  25. Years ago I worked at DL when they transitioned from 3 class to 2 class (with a significantly more robust than before J class meal service). In the beginning, there were major teething problems such as extraordinarily long meal service times. Stories of 3 to 4 hour services were not uncommon on the initial flights. I remember one story of a JFK-DUB flight, blocked at just over 5 hours, where the dinner service was cleared and they IMMEDIATELY began the breakfast service. LOL! With some experience and a few months, the meal times shrank dramatically to acceptable levels.

  26. Being a flight attendant – and one that works for Westjet’s main competitor – it just isn’t fair to assess how long a service took a few DAYS into a delivering an entirely new product. I love your reviews Lucky but c’mon, you’re not being fair.

    Learning a business class service in class will only get you part way. New planes, classes of service, and service flows take time to get used to. For flight attendants just figuring out where to find things around the galley is sometimes a nightmare. Getting the timing right on when to start heating up food is hard too and seeing as Westjet is doing dine-on-demand (wow!) it’s extra complicated. Westjet crew are used to one style of service. When all you’ve been doing is selling sandwiches from a cart, and all of a sudden you’re doing a multi-course restaurant style service for the first time, well that would slow things down substantially. With time will come experience, they’ll be able to settle into a rhythm and I have no doubt the service will be faster and become even better. I have to admit it looks pretty darn great overall.

  27. It’s all very well, Westjet isn’t bookable on loyalty points. They aren’t part of an alliance. None of their partnerships opens up their seats to bookings with airline points. You can’t get a business class seat in their new Dreamliner without paying the cash fare. That’s a lot of Amex points.

    Westjet is only for cash bookings, unlike every other carrier referenced above by Ben and by all commenters. Westjet isn’t comparable to SQ, QR and others you’re all discussing. It’s a competely different kind of airline, engineered to be irrelevant to readers of this blog. Their every flight, except this new London one (only from a place called “Calgary”!) is comparable to Spirit or Southwest in USA, not SQ, QR or AC.

    I’m sure introducing this cabin is a good business move for them, but this cabin is not available to most readers here, who expect to redeem points and avoid surcharges, if they can. WEstjet J is for actual Business travellers, who pay J fares with money.

    Thousands of dollars oneway to Gatwick? Position to YYC? Right, I’ll get right on that opportunity.

  28. Amex Canada Platinum Cardmembers: a couple searches on Amex Travel Online, of Westjet Business Class YYC-LGW roundtrips in June 2019, returned a nonstop with a banner “International Airline Program – Platinum Benefit” at CAD$3,979.32. Whee! Or pay with 140,000 points + CAD$1,479. I give up.

  29. @DenB WestJet is partnered with Delta and AirFrance/KLM so eventually they will be bookable with SkyPesos and Flying Blue. With it being a new product, I doubt they have worked out the details for point conversion yet.

  30. My appetizer was served 3hr after takeoff
    My main was served 3hr20min after takeoff
    My dessert was served 3hr40min after takeoff

    This timeline seems just fine to me. 20 min between each course seems reasonable. Not counting the setup, they still got the entire meal served to you in 40 minutes, what’s wrong with that?

  31. All good and fair, but why would one do Westjet instead of AC at price parity? Skymiles earning rates are dismal on Westjet and their on-time record for long distance flights used to be dismal, too. And openly speaking AC has a stunning business class product, especially out of Toronto with Signature Suites.

  32. @DenB

    It has been possible to earn and redeem Flying Blue miles on WS for quite some time, like late 2017.

  33. How was the lounge?

    Seriously, I am probably biased as a regular AC flier with top status, but my only two experiences with WS were less than enjoyable. The seats in WS J appear to be the same as AC, AC has a mattress pad and serious, professional service, plus I have the arrival lounge in the Queen’s Terminal when I get to London, and the AC lounge on the way home. Why would I take WS to London?

    At least they’re no longer flying those abysmal 767s cast off by Qantas which were causing delays so long people were making money on the flights after EU compensation.

    I wish WS luck, but I won’t be patronizing them.

  34. @John
    AC probably have a better lounge product in YYZ/YYC for sure. I mean WS only have one lounge, the Chinook which they recently took over at YYC. They’re planning on launching a custom built lounge next year though.

    I’m based at YVR and prefer flying WS over AC domestically at least. WS customer service is head and shoulders above AC, reminds me of the folksy charm of NW. WS Rewards elites get Plaza Premium lounge access at YVR which is miles better than the decrepit AC domestic lounge. Actual meals available at the PP lounge vs. reheated flatbreads and cold pasta in the AC lounge!

    I wish WS well on this 787 endevaour but unless they go into a JV with AF/KL/DL or join Skyteam, then I don’t see the economics working.

  35. Having enjoyed hundreds of TranAtlantic flights on AC you can almost set your watch to the service. Airborne to clean up of linens after the service is 2.00 to 2.15 depending on the crew. I enjoy the service but also appreciate the down time before landing.

  36. Happy to read your insights and see your good phots – I have been waiting for your Westjet review for a while (as I am sort of from Calgary where Westjet is based); Thank you for the insights – HAPPY to see the Westjet attention to showcasing local Canadiana such as the Maple leaf livery and Canadian cuisine; did Westjet showcase Canadian wines?

    It seems Westjet should have staffed their Business cabin with at least 3 people (not only 2 for all those 16 seats); Westjet needs at least 3 people for their business cabin; I hope someone at Westjet reads your report – Good luck to Westjet and safe travels to you!

  37. It’s tough to achieve. No service or not much and you can enjoy the lying down and sleeping. Lots of service and no real opportunity to use the seat.

    I once forfeited the business class meal and slept the entire time. I was tired and the cabin crew was very quiet, even the way they walked.

  38. I am amazed you didn’t get it, Lucky! Slow pace in a new product is normal, especially premium.

    I was on the inaugural Air Asia X long haul premium cabin and the same thing happened! 4hrs30 before the lights went out! (KUL-OOL)

    It goes back to the training, which will have been to tell the FA’s “these people have paid a lot of money to be there, don’t rush them, let them enjoy the experience”

    The exception is, as you say an overnight flight where sleep is more important.

    “Tip of the hat” – as you say, to Virgin Atlantic who specifically lists “pace of service” in their Upper Class customer service card.

    As an ex FA, I’d say staff levels are not to blame. It is easily possible for 2 crew to manage 16 J pax. (Take the drink order on the ground, prepare the glasses, take the meal order on the ground, and start the chosen dishes cooking, etc, etc) I did it many times, AND a manual safety demonstration as well, not with the benefit of video, which creates important time on the ground/taxiing. The real professionalism is making it appear you are not rushing!

  39. @majik I stand corrected (on my main point!). Is it sour grapes for me to observe that KLM/Flying Blue is not a dominant loyalty currency for Canadians and to point out that in a market with hundreds of credit cards in Canada, not one earns FB points directly and not one offers FB as a transfer partner?

    You’re still right, one can fly Westjet and Skyteam, earn FB points, use them to fly Westjet J from Calgary to Gatwick. One can “get US credit cards” to accelerate this process. How are the FB Award redemption rates for WS J? How’s seat availability?

    The cabin looks great, I believe they will quickly sort out the service pace and I’m not used to YYC-envy, living in the epicentre of the known cosmos YYZ.

  40. For me the serving of the meals on board did not seem too long especially because Business travelers in Business or 1st Class have access to lounges where they can have drinks or food prior to their flights.
    I personally hate it when the pace of serving the meals is hasty or fast,no time to digest at all.
    But Ben, maybe you were starving and eager to eat & drink something.
    Now ” why would one do Westjet instead of AC at price parity? ” It depends on the schedule offered by WJ and AC and also if you are a Flying Blue member you just stick to WJ i guess.

  41. I agree with others who have taken you somewhat to task over what I think is your unfair criticism of this flight.

    Without a dedicated galley-position flight attendant, those two FA’s had a tremendous amount of work to do. My hat is off to them! I flew for 30 years and well remember the difficulty of working on a just-introduced aircraft type. (Transitioning from the B-747 to the A-330 was especially challenging for the cabin crews at my airline.)

    Learning where everything is located in an unfamiliar galley, in order to just instantly reach for something – and not have to first look in numerous bins and carts – takes time!

    Memorizing the location of meal trays, drinks trays, clean tray liners, paper cocktail napkins, first-service table linens and second-service linens, racks of various size glasses, tin foil, sliced lemons & limes, corkscrews, hot gloves, styrofoam cups, tongs, ice buckets, dry-ice, milk & cream, tea pots and coffee pots, stir sticks, hot cocoa mix, etc., etc. can take quite a while.

    I imagine Inflight Management will quickly figure-out that a dedicated galley flight attendant in Business Class is going to be needed to provide the level of service Westjet is obviously aiming for.

  42. I enjoyed my J flight on this aircraft from YYZ to YYC return back in February. They had some festivities at both ends. Great product. Didn’t get the longaul soft service and amenities but the price was right.

  43. You didn’t order the fish! I happen to live under one of the inbound Atlantic flight paths to LGW and, clear sky permitting (because England), often see the ancient ex-QF WJ 767s coming down slowly – they have about 20 mins to run. Must keep an eye out for new 787s. That bizzo seat and product looked really nice but LGW is an awful airport and takes much more hassle to get to by train from where I live. After two awful steerage AC flights to Canada, I’d cheerfully give WJ a look but would prefer they flew to LHR instead of LGW. That tourist airport disaster is where I fear Mint will also end up.

  44. I’ve flown CX JL TK TG NH OZ AA F class and the WS crew was the best. Reminded me of Wardair or Canadian Airlines but better. Food was wonderful and served to me around 90 mins after take-off. Most important was the hard product was insanely wonderful. Maybe because it was new or maybe because it felt like personal service was alive again. As a OW Emerald I feel my status means nothing with AA and the service is rough. I want to like AA but it’s really bad. WS was the refresher I needed. Direct out of YYZ, WS beats the weathered and over attitude of AC. Can’t stand AC but like they are *A. Hope WJ gets in with an alliance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *