While most Canadians know Westjet as a low-cost carrier operating domestic and regional flights, since 2015 it has had two B767-300s serving longer routes, including Calgary-London Gatwick three times a week. It also now has its own ‘ultra-low cost’ subsidiary, Swoop.
In April it raised its long-haul game with the delivery of four B787-9s, which until mid-October are operating routes from Calgary to Dublin (three times weekly), Paris (four times weekly), London (daily) and Toronto (daily). London-Calgary flights depart between 1300 and 1400, and the return leaves between 1920 and 1955.
Six more Dreamliners are set to be delivered to the airline by 2021, and it has options on a further ten. CEO Ed Sims has called it a “new chapter” for Westjet.
The new aircraft offer economy, premium economy and business. My flight was too busy for me to get a good picture of the business class seat, the fully-flat Super Diamond by Collins Aerospace, but here is the publicity shot:
I arrived at Gatwick train station just after 1100 for my 1300 flight to Calgary and took the shuttle over to the North Terminal. It was easy to find the Westjet check-in, which was to the right of the main door, and there were lots of self-service kiosks with no queue. The system was easy enough to use, although I needed a hand with the bag drop as the machine wouldn’t scan my tag. A member of staff came to help me straight away and we had a geeky chat about the benefits of RFID tags.
The flight was delayed by 40 minutes but we boarded around the normal time and waited on the plane. The priority queue, which is meant to be for those in premium economy and business, was a bit chaotic as the lanes weren’t separated and everyone tried to board at once. However this eventually cleared and I was in my seat in around ten minutes.
The crew were extremely friendly, something a few Canadians told me Westjet is known for. Shortly after boarding they came around to introduce themselves and explained how to use the seat controls, also handing out orange juice or sparkling wine in small plastic cups.
While we waited for take-off they also took our meal orders, as well as orders for drinks before and during the meal. Each passenger had a small water bottle, overhead headphones and a linen Rocky Mountain Soap Company amenity kit containing lip balm, ear plugs, socks and an eye mask. On my return flight they had run out of amenity kits and no one in the cabin got one, so I don’t know if there are variants.
The cabin itself has a pleasant design, with soft lighting, a grey colour scheme on the bulkheads and then touches of turquoise and blue on the curtains and seats. The headrests and armrests are finished in leather. It’s clear that the aircraft is new, and the smart aesthetic suggests Westjet doesn’t want to be seen as a lower-end option on these routes.
The premium economy cabin comprised four rows (numbered five to eight) in a 2-3-2 configuration (A-C, D-E-F, K-H). There are 16 seats in business and 276 in economy. The seat had 38 inches of pitch, 19 inches of width and 7 inches of recline, versus 31 inches of pitch and 17.5 of width in economy. Each had a USB port and Canadian power socket. It’s also possible to raise the footrest fairly high.
The seats were comfortable and I liked the design, though they did have a few flaws. There wasn’t much storage, so there was nowhere to put the water bottle except the armrest or stuffed awkwardly into the magazine rack. The charging ports and headphone sockets were handy, meaning you could use your own headphones if you wanted, although they were in a pocket far in the back of the armrest which was almost impossible to navigate in the dark.
The table is accessed by opening up a pocket in the armrest and pulling it out and across. It’s large and extends far enough away from you that you have some space. The upside is that it is not impacted when the passenger in front reclines. However it does trap you in a bit more than a fold-down tray since you have to clear all your belongings and slide it back into the armrest if you want to get out or grab something from in front of you. It was a balancing act to try to collect my headphones which had dropped onto the floor once dinner had been served, for example.
I really liked the blanket, which was soft, thick and warm. On the way out my pillow was comfortable and plump, although on my return flight it was a lot thinner, which was a shame as that was the night flight where I really wanted a good sleep.
I sat in 6D, an aisle seat in the middle section. The pitch was fine for me but I would go for the bulkhead row (5) if you like a lot of legroom – I was in window seat 6K on the return and missed the aisle access. While you will have to store your bag in the overhead lockers and fold down your IFE screen during takeoff and landing in the front row, the toilets and galley are at the back of the cabin so there is no disturbance. You also get served first. However one thing to note is that the window is quite far away from the seat.
During boarding the man in front of me had hung his jacket on the back of his seat, completely covering my screen. I was putting off asking him to move it until I actually wanted to use the IFE but a crew member quickly spotted it after take-off and politely asked him to take it off.
After 30 minutes or so we were brought the first round of drinks that we had ordered on the ground. One nice touch was that the crew didn’t use a trolley, instead preparing meals and drinks on a tray in the galley at the back and bringing them to each seat, meaning you never got trapped in. They trays themselves were well designed, with the effect of dark grey slate but in a rubbery non-slip material. Hot towels were brought around before each meal.
I was very impressed by the food. My main was braised beef shin with rice, carrots and pak choi, which were all really nicely cooked. This was served with a salad with chunks of halloumi, a warm roll, cheese, a Pots and Co salted caramel and chocolate ganache and an extra square of chocolate. The other meal options were chicken in mushroom sauce and spinach and ricotta tortellini.
I went for a glass of 2017 South African Swartland Syrah, which I enjoyed. The wine list is short, also including a Benjamin Bridge Brut NV from Nova Scotia and a Sibling Rivalry White Blend from Ontario. Also on offer are some Canadian ales, an assortment of spirits, mimosas and a ‘Classic Caesar’ – a Canadian drink similar to a Bloody Mary but made with clam juice as well as tomato juice.
Just over an hour before landing we were served afternoon tea, which I also enjoyed. A set of three sandwiches came in plastic wrapping and was fairly standard, but the warm scone was really tasty and went well with the clotted cream and jam. It also came with a honeycomb cheesecake and Waldorf salad.
I was again impressed by the breakfast offering on my return flight, which included a warm croissant, fresh strawberries, Greek yoghurt, granola and a boiled egg and cheese salad (although who can eat that much cheese in the early hours of the morning I don’t know.)
The toilets are located just behind the galley at the back of the cabin, and they are exclusively for premium economy passengers so there was never a queue.
In general the service was of a very high standard. The crew were very chatty where passengers were up for it but unobtrusive among those who wanted to work or sleep. They also made frequent trips up and down the aisle to check on people and felt very present throughout the flight.
The exit is located directly behind the premium economy cabin, and as soon as this was opened we were able to disembark. I had a ‘priority’ label attached to my bag at the start of the journey, but it didn’t seem to make any difference on arrival in Calgary.
Westjet is taking its move into the full-service market seriously. The seat is decent but the standout features of my trip were the food, service and cabin design.
Best for Great service and dining on a brand-new aircraft with direct routes between Europe and western Canada
Price A flexible return flight in August started from around £3,000 (C$4,910). Non-flexible started from £1,858 (C$3,037)
Seat width 19 inches
Seat pitch 38 inches
Seat recline 7 inches
Flight duration 8 hours, 30 minutes