Since WestJet began flying long-haul routes, we’ve seen the airline operate international flights departing from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Halifax, and St. John’s at some point or another.
Immediately following the pandemic, WestJet pursued a strategy of renewing a wide berth of international flights from different airports across Canada.
While the airline had indeed restored some of its international routes from various Canadian cities, it will now double down on its Calgary hub. As of 2023, all of WestJet’s international flights will originate from Calgary.
Let’s look at the changes and what opportunities they might provide you.
WestJet’s identity is readily apparent in its name: it flies jets and it’s based in Western Canada. Since the airline’s creation, Calgary has always been home to the airline’s corporate offices and the recipient of its greatest attention.
The most recent announcement affects all international routes operating from airports aside from Calgary, and as of 2023, WestJet will only operate international flights out of its Calgary hub.
Ever since the great travel rush of 2021–2022, WestJet has been experimenting with flying international routes from elsewhere in Canada, including from the eastern part of the country where Air Canada dominates the playing field. It’s difficult to ascertain how successful these routes were, but the decision to axe them must have been made based on business needs.
The latter part of 2022 also saw WestJet’s cancellation of a number of domestic routes in Eastern Canada, much to the chagrin of residents of Atlantic provinces who aren’t necessarily well-served by airlines to begin with.
The company appears to be following a “back-to-basics” approach by funnelling their entire international network into and out of Calgary. This is especially advantageous because it means they can sell tickets with single connections from destinations that Air Canada doesn’t prioritize for service, such as cities in Saskatchewan, to its domestic and international network.
Moreover, WestJet can piggyback off of value-minded travellers who opt to take ultra-low-cost carriers, such as Lynx Air, to Calgary before boarding WestJet flights to their final destinations abroad.
As of next year, WestJet will service a number of new international routes from Calgary. Between April and May, WestJet will launch new direct flights from Calgary to Tokyo Narita (NRT), Barcelona (BCN), and Edinburgh (EDI).
The airline will also continue to operate five existing routes from Calgary at a greater frequency:
This is excellent news for Western Canadians trying to minimize the headache of travel times and connections, but who wish to fly internationally to some of the most popular tourist destinations in Western Europe and Japan.
Sadly, WestJet’s direct flights from Calgary to Amsterdam are set to end on March 24, 2023. However, Albertans eager to reach the Netherlands can still depart on a direct flight from Calgary or Edmonton with KLM.
We’ll also be watching closely to see if some of these seasonal routes get promoted to year-round destinations.
It’s interesting that WestJet has made these cuts at the precise moment that they did. Right now, I can see a few factors at play.
Firstly, these changes came into effect on December 20, 2022. Anyone paying attention to the news can see that in the face of record snowstorms and passenger volumes, every Canadian carrier is struggling to meet the needs of travellers.
In such a difficult context, it therefore makes some sense for WestJet to focus on the familiar and improve its operations in Calgary.
Secondly, it seems that every new airline, especially those of the ultra-low-cost variety, has been focusing on getting flights into Calgary. One such carrier, Lynx Air, is even headquartered there.
While the recent “Alberta Is Calling” campaign run by the Alberta government to entice Canadians to move to the province has been quite successful, do carriers think that there are enough customers in Calgary to fill all of their seats? Or have their business analysts drawn conclusions about growth in Alberta the rest of us can only speculate about?
In my opinion, WestJet has seen domestic ultra-low-cost carriers flying to and from Calgary as an advantage, and something that they can utilize to sell more tickets overseas as leisure travel to Alberta increases over the years.
This leads into the last interesting piece of this pivot, as WestJet’s CEO, Alexis von Hoensbroech, recently joined the company in February 2022.
As the former CEO of Austrian Airlines, Hoensbroech was able to lead the airline through the storm of COVID-19 and to continue to survive in the face of stiff competition of European budget competitors, such as Ryanair and Wizz Air.
Given Hoensbroech’s background, this pivot to a focus on Calgary seems to align with his previously successful corporate strategies.
WestJet has discontinued all of its international routes from airports outside of Calgary, while at the same time expanding its capacity to service overseas destinations from Alberta.
Time will tell if this shift will pay dividends. Given the increase in traffic of ultra-low-cost carriers servicing Calgary, and WestJet’s new CEO’s experience in duelling with such competitors, this back-to-basics approach could be more successful than its foray into Eastern Canada was.
Until next time, visit lovely Alberta.
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