WestJet is in the midst of reinvention and—in some cases—retrenchment as the recovery kicks in, WestJet director of commercial strategy Frank Satusky told Routes World 2023 in Las Vegas.
Adding to the headwinds is a rapidly growing ULCC sector coupled with a much slower return to pre-pandemic recovery following restrictions that were the toughest in the world.
“Two weeks ago, Canadian passengers were still wearing masks,” he said. “The pandemic hit us pretty hard in that we weren’t at our maturity level in our new strategies, so we had to step back and say ‘where are we today and where do we want to get to?’”
WestJet paused the fleet growth of its long-haul Boeing 787 fleet at seven, slowing its European expansion, and focusing its long-haul flying around its Calgary (YYC) hub.
After making a run at Air Canada in the east, Satusky said WestJet elected to downsize its high cost and operationally plagued former hub at Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and “own the west”—returning to its Western Canadian roots and routes. This means eschewing unprofitable flying in the eastern provinces, and refocusing on its home and most profitable hub, Calgary, along with Edmonton and Vancouver strongholds.
But Satusky highlighted that realignment should not be mistaken for contraction. Earlier this year, WestJet agreed to acquire leisure operator Sunwing. The airline also recently signed a codeshare agreement with Korean Air to bring low risk connectivity to Asia, using Korean’s metal, and placed an order for 42 Boeing 737-10s.
Elsewhere, WestJet on Oct. 19 announced plans to launch a new 4X-weekly service between Calgary and Terrace (YXT) in British Columbia. Flights will start on Dec. 1 using WestJet Encore's Q400 aircraft.
“The West is our home and as we turn to an exciting new chapter of growth, we are committed to providing vital domestic connections that support the economic diversification and success of Western Canada,” CCO John Weatherill said.