Westjet vows not to repeat mistakes of 767 introduction

WestJet’s first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, named in honour of the airline’s chairman and founder, Clive Beddoe, being delivered in January. (CNW Group/WESTJET, an Alberta Partnership)

In just a few short days, WestJet will introduce it’s newest airplane – the Boeing 787 – to the flying public. It’s meant to usher in a new era of premium service – and revenues – for Westjet. And the airline vows it won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from the (introduction) of the 767,” said WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims.

There were plenty of lessons to learn.

WestJet introduced the 767 to its fleet with great fanfare in 2016, buying the aircraft used from QANTAS and launching service from Alberta to Hawai’i. Winter flying went relatively well as Westjet crews learned to use their new equipment.

But when WestJet started using the 767s for their intended purpose, launching service to London-Gatwick, it didn’t take long for things to go pear-shaped.

Break downs and maintenance issues left passengers waiting for delayed flights, stranded because of missed connections, and fuming about it all on social media. Then-president Gregg Saretsky said the planes caused “lots of grief, lots of mechanical problems.” The next year, in 2017, Westjet cut back on Gatwick service to help alleviate the pressure.

It all meant Westjet’s image – and bottom line – took a pumelling.

Westjet executives vow it won’t happen again.

This time, the Boeings are all brand new, delivered in stages direct from the factory in Washington state, meaning mechanical problems should be few and far between. And Westjet has decided not to fly the planes to their full capacity.

“We have built spare capacity into the introduction of the 787,” said Sims. “We’re effectively flying 14 out of 21 rotations if we wanted to fly those three aircraft daily to our first three destinations.”

The first 787 enters service February 20 between Calgary and Toronto. Once all three are delivered, they will be based in Calgary, and fly daily to London-Gatwick, but only three times a week to Dublin and four times to Paris. That reduces the risk that things might go wrong, with no alternatives.

“We believe that actually carrying that available capacity, which clearly reduces full utilization,” said Sims, “is the sensible approach.”

Passengers do seem excited by the new aircraft.

“We’re tracking our trans-Atlantic 787 bookings very, very closely, an J (business) cabin as closely as any of the cabins,” said John Weatherill, vice president of Revenue Management at Westjet. “Our bookings are coming in on pace with what we expect, and more importantly, they’re coming in at the yield that we had modelled.”

Other Canadian Westjet cities will continue to have 767 service to Gatwick this summer.

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