WestJet plans to dip its toes into the transatlantic travel market next spring with flights between St. John’s and Dublin, further ramping up competition with rival Air Canada. The first flight will be in June of 2014 and will offer connecting service from other Canadian cities.
“WestJet’s innovative foray into the European market represents a willingness to do what it takes to connect Canadians to the world while bringing the world to Canada,” Chris Avery, the airline’s vice-president of network planning, said in a statement. “From Dublin, guests can access low-cost flights to more than 100 cities in Europe.”
The Calgary-based airline has taken several steps in recent months that hint at its ambitions further afield. That includes the overhaul of its cabins to include premium economy seating (business class and premium economy tickets are big money makers on overseas flights) and offering passengers the option of buying different fare classes. The launch of regional airline Encore earlier this year can also be seen as laying the groundwork for more international flying since it will help funnel more passengers to WestJet’s main hub airports.
There will likely be more changes to come. While the St. John’s-Dublin route can be served with WestJet’s existing fleet of Boeing 737s, most industry watchers believe WestJet will ultimately need bigger wide-body aircraft, like the Boeing 767 or 787, if it wants to become a serious international player. At present, air travelers wishing to fly to Dublin from cities like Calgary, Vancouver or Montreal will need to connect in St. John’s. Passengers from Toronto, meanwhile, are being offered “direct” flights to Dublin, which means they will be able to stay on the same plane after landing in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.
The total flight time between St. John’s and Dublin is about the same as flying between Toronto and Calgary, according to WestJet.
WestJet was founded in 1996 as a discount airline that served cities in Western Canada. For years it religiously followed a pure low-cost model, but started to move away from the winning formula—fly a single type of plane in an all-economy class configuration to cheaper, under-utilized airports— in the mid-2000s as rival Air Canada cut costs and offered more competitive domestic fares.