In the midst of takeover, Westjet plays it safe in winter schedule

A Westjet 737-800 lands at Vancouver International Airport in June 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Under the circumstances, you might forgive Westjet for playing it just a bit safe in its upcoming winter schedule released Monday. While there were some tweaks to the schedule, there was nothing the average person would find earth-shattering.

The airline doesn’t yet know who its owner will be, though it’s conceivable the planned purchase by Onex will pass muster. Shareholders will vote on the deal Tuesday at a special meeting in Calgary. The federal Transport Minister has already announced he would not hold a public interest review of the ownership change.

At the same time, Westjet doesn’t know when it will be able to fly its fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, which remains grounded around the world as the manufacturer and regulators sort through ongoing issues with the type.

In its winter schedule, Westjet is concentrating on its three main hubs – Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto – adding frequencies on select routes and making it easier to connect from secondary cities. For instance, Calgary gains 14 weekly flights, while Vancouver gains nine. Toronto, its main Eastern hub, gains three weekly flights.

Three non-hub Canadian airports see increases. Five weekly flights will be added between Edmonton and Saskatoon, and Ottawa will see service to Ft. Myers, Florida double, from one weekly flight, to two.

The only new routes are from Victoria to San Jose del Cabo, and from Calgary to Punta Cana. The airline’s growing Dreamliner fleet will be deployed to London-Gatwick and from Calgary to Maui.

“By executing on our hub strategy, we’re improving schedules not only for guests in Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto, but also building thousands of new connections for guests across the country,” said Arved von zur Muehlen, WestJet Chief Commercial Officer.

“This winter Canadians have more flights and better access to popular leisure and business destinations and will benefit from schedule improvements, frequency increases and improved connectivity across our growing global network.”

Air Canada uses a similar strategy to funnel its passengers through hubs in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Westjet’s winter strategy bears a striking similarity with its discount Swoop brand, which announced it would deploy the fleet in its winter schedule to reinforce existing routes, with few new services announced.

The Canadian aviation industry as a whole is in the midst of an unheval. On top of the Onex purchase, Air Canada is trying to buy Air Transat, and Canadian North and First Air have started down the road to merging their operations.