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I’ve never considered WestJet to be an inferior airline or considered it to be a “Low-Cost Carrier (LCC)” in Canada. However, after my recent experience with WestJet, I may be beginning to think the airline is worthy of a downgrade to this level.
Over the Easter long weekend, I got the opportunity to “almost” fly WestJet for the first time in 8 years. The nearly 7-hour experience flying from Ottawa to Ottawa (yes, you read that right) was an eye-opener into the degradation of the airline over the past decade. During these hours, I witnessed 4 key shortcomings of the airline that I want to share.
1. The WestJet App
How can an app bring so much agony? It looks quite slick and pretty but provides very little flight information, just barebone flight status information. Compare this to Air Canada, and you will see the differences.
While knowing the flight duration, baggage carousel number, etc., is nice, the lack of incoming flight information is unfortunate. This is a feature that I regard highly above all others and is crucial when delays are expected; I use this to keep an eye on my incoming flight. Remember that all flight departure times are “Estimated” times of departure. More than likely, the plane is incoming from another city, which is also incoming from somewhere else, and so on. Any schedule delay in the chain creates a cascading effect of delaying all the flights. Airlines can sometimes mitigate this, but noticing such a scenario can serve as a precursor to your flight being delayed before it is officially announced. This can enable you to act early to reschedule your flight before others and grab any spare seats on a different flight.
For my 6AM flight, I had noticed it had come in the night before, but late. As such, the flight was delayed by 40min due to “crew availability.”
In addition, online check-in is not possible if you are flying WestJet on a non-WestJet ticket. In my case, my flights were booked through Delta using my SkyPesos, sorry, I mean SkyMiles. How did I confirm this was the reason I could not check in? The WestJet incompetent check-in agent at the airport. Yes, incompetent, read on.
2. Dated Aircrafts
The Boeing 737 is the workhorse of WestJet. While the airline flies some of their newer 737 MAX 8 and the wide-body 787, they are few and far between. The stone aged 737-600, -700, or -900 is likely what you will get the pleasure of flying on, all of which are at least 18 years old and not refreshed much. In fact, the interior stenches of a 1990’s seating. There is also no Inflight Entertainment on the back of the seats, but you can access content through their amazing WestJet App (sarcasm alert). The beauty of this is limited entertainment selection and lotto if it works properly or not, from what I heard from others.
WestJet seats are also not as wide as others, 17in wide, putting them in the perfect Low-Cost Carrier category.
Do you remember the WestJet full of smiles, jokes, and an overall positive demeanor from all staff in the air, on the ground, and on the phone? What happened to that? The so-called “WestJet Magic” has died, and staff appears to be now as cold as any other airline. Here was my experience centered around competency and passenger communications.
Recall how I said that I was traveling on a Delta award ticket and could not check in online? Well, at the airport, the check-in agent had the same issue, and it took nearly 30 minutes to check us in as they had to call their support desk. The worst part was the lack of information the agent provided me with during the process. Not a single word unless I inquired first.
Fast forward an hour and imagine you’re waiting at the gate to board your flight (or standing in line early like one of the gate lice), and the departure time has passed. There is a commotion going on amongst the WestJet staff (including the station manager), as well as with personnel that appeared to be from maintenance. Clearly, something is wrong. I went up to the station manager, who revealed what was happening, but the hundreds of other passengers were kept in the dark. None of the WestJet staff took the initiative to make an announcement.
Shortly thereafter, we witnessed our aircraft being pushed away from the gate and real panic and anger set in among passengers. They lined up now to talk to one of the three WestJet agents. Still, no announcement was made. Not until about 2h 15 min after the estimated departure time that we could finally board the flight. This lack of communication with passengers is despicable and unacceptable.
4. Limited Phone Rebooking Capability
Our flight delay meant we would miss our connection in Toronto, so I decided to be proactive and call the WestJet Gold Line to help with rebooking. I knew that WestJet would have to accommodate us with a partner airline but I was utterly shocked when the agent on the phone informed me that he could not help in rebooking us and that I would have to speak to an agent in Toronto after I landed there, which I knew meant standing in line for a long time, given most other passengers on my flight would also be in the same boat. How can an airline not assist a customer in rebooking over the phone, even a Gold Status member?
5. Bonus: Is WestJet being overly frugal with Fuel?
After we had pushed back from the gate, and de-iced again, we could not take off due to limited visibility from the dense fog that rolled in. We then sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes and began to run low on fuel and had to return to the gate. During these 90 minutes, passengers were not provided with any service nor permitted to use the washroom.
What I don’t understand is how we can run out of fuel. Our scheduled flight was to be just 1 hour from Ottawa to Toronto. Based on my research, the 737 fuel burn on the ground and in the air, plus reserves, should have been more than enough not to require refueling. I know that many factors go into the fuel calculation, but given the low fuel burn on the ground, it seems that WestJet is fueling their planes to the bare minimum, to save on costs, perhaps? It’s just a theory that I cannot prove but I’m hoping some experts can chime in on the comments.
WestJet ruined our Easter Holiday weekend to Anguilla. I should have heeded what I preached in my art of positioning post and arrived in Toronto the night before. I’m glad we did run out of fuel and returned to the gate as we deplaned ourselves and went home. I’m also glad I booked everything with points and miles as everything, except the 60K Delta SkyMiles, was refunded. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the other sobbing passengers on my flight who had spent thousands on their travels.
This experience was an eye-opener into WestJet operations. The airline has already degraded over the past few years from its system outages, canceled routes, and a questionable loyalty program that is trying to dig itself out of a deep grave.
I have no intention to attempt to fly WestJet again and will burn my gold status they willingly gave me through a status match. WestJet is positioning itself now as a leisure airline providing “affordable airfares as a low-cost carrier” to Canadians. They said it themselves; they are positioning themselves to be the inferior airline in Canada. A round of applause.