With only a few weeks left in the year, I decided to use my remaining vacation days for a boys’ weekend in Calgary. It had been a rough few weeks at work and was I looking forward to catching up with a few friends from university for a weekend of clubbing, sleeping in, and just being away from Vancouver. Flights in Canada are some of the most expensive in the world and even after deciding to crash on my friend’s couch, I was still on a tight budget. Searching around for flights a couple weeks before my planned vacation, I happened on a $265 round-trip fare from Vancouver to Calgary. For months flights had been floating around $340 return so I immediately jumped on the fare, even if it meant a layover en-route.
When I was choosing my flights, I noticed that my outward leg would include a segment on WestJet Encore’s Q400 via Kelowna. If I’m honest, I must have been overexcited at the prospect of loading from the tarmac to the point where I accidentally booked my return through Edmonton by mistake. No matter, I had never flown through the Albertan Capital and, as most “AvGeeks” can attest, I was looking forward to the chance to visit a new airport.
Flight 1: WS 3316 Vancouver (YVR)-Kelowna (YLW)
Taking my chances with public transit, I was up at 4:30 am Pacific Time to make sure that I got to YVR in time to take some pictures before my flight. I arrived at 6:30 am and quickly passed through a fairly quiet security area. I descended down the escalator, turned left and headed through the refurbished A-B Connector. I contemplated lining up for a Starbucks Coffee, however, I weighed the options and ultimately decided to go for the free coffee on-board.
Our flight was one of many scheduled to depart from the re-named Terminal A gates. For many years, this section of the terminal had been closed off after Air Canada Express moved into Canadian Regional’s former terminal in 2001. When WestJet launched Encore in 2014, they re-opened the parking stands and set up temporary facilities to accommodate ground loading. I had never flown out of one of these gates before, and I was eager to see a “new” part of YVR.
I was really looking forward to this segment. I’ve always enjoyed flying Bombardier’s Q400 because it usually means loading from the tarmac and flying into smaller, less crowded airports. I also find the flight experience to be more enhanced on turboprops: the whine of the engines is more noticeable, the configuration of the aircraft guarantees either a window or an aisle seat, and you feel more at one with the airframe as it navigates the choppier skies. Our aircraft had been delayed leaving Kelowna and we didn’t end up boarding until 7:30. The time lost meant that we pushed back 5 minutes late at 7:50 am.
The flight was rather bumpy and, either due to the short duration or the turbulence, the cabin crew did not perform a full cabin service. I had been looking forward to a cup of coffee to properly wake up (WestJet has recently partnered with McDonald’s McCafe); however, with a flight time of 39 Minutes and Gate to Gate time of 51 Minutes, I didn’t have to wait too long.
Flight 2: WS 188 Kelowna (YLW)-Calgary (YYC)
After a fairly smooth arrival into Kelowna, I had a two-hour layover before my flight to Calgary. I choose to leave the airside departure lounge on the basis that I would be able to grab some food and take some photos of the airport. YLW served over 1.7 Million passengers in 2016 and the check-in facilities seemed sufficient for the number of flights passing through. The airport has a number of pleasant amenities including a sit-down restaurant, rental car facilities, and an indoor viewing area.
We pushed back a few minutes early at 11:01 am and were in the air 6 minutes later. The boarding process had been a tad haphazard as the lines were not well defined, it was, however, the only negative I found with Kelowna’s Airport and staff. I considered sampling WestJet connect on the 43-minute flight to Calgary, however, I was politely dragged into a long, deep conversation about the state of the world. It was interesting however also mentally draining. We arrived into Calgary at 12:50 pm (MST), moving quickly to the arrivals level after parking and deplaning at one of the new international gates.
Flight 3: WS 903 Calgary (YYC)-Edmonton (YEG)
After an action-packed weekend in Calgary, I had almost forgotten that my return flight to Vancouver would be via Edmonton. Taking into consideration the fact that I probably wouldn’t be home until midnight, I inquired about the possibility of taking an earlier flight. The WestJet agent was happy to help me find an earlier flight; however, the fee imposed for moving to an earlier flight was $100. After reminding my self that I deliberately chosen my flights based on price, I opted to continue on my original itinerary.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and after passing through security, I grabbed a quick bite of food before trekking over to my departure gate. Boarding was scheduled for 7:35 pm. As I had a tight connection in Edmonton, it was important that we left on time. Fortunately, we did not need to de-ice and we pushed back 4 minutes ahead of schedule at 8:11 pm.
For the third flight in a row, the cabin service was downsized. A possible correlation with the reduced service was the duration of the flights; all three had been under an hour. Whether this is mandated by the pilots or by WestJet’s management I don’t know.
On this flight, I was finally able to test out WestJet Connect, the carrier’s in-flight entertainment system. Accessible through WestJet’s mobile app, I got through the first half of Caddyshack and was looking forward to completing the film on my flight to Vancouver.
30 minutes after taking off from Calgary we touched down in Edmonton at 8:50 pm. We had to wait a few minutes for our gate to be ready, but we still managed to de-plane well ahead of our scheduled arrival time of 9:07 pm.
Flight 4: WS 337 Edmonton (YEG)-Vancouver (YVR)
After leaving the aircraft, I still had over an hour before my flight to Vancouver. As I’d never flown through YEG before, I tried to explore as much of the terminal as possible. I was very impressed with the modern layout and overall aesthetics. In short, the terminal is built around two main concourses separated by an open concept atrium. Before the new US concourse was completed in 2012, the atrium largely separated the Domestic and International departure gates.
The “old” domestic concourse handles the bulk of WestJet & WS Encore’s operations, Air Canada Express flights, and all other Canadian carriers excluding Air Canada (Flair Airlines, Air North, Canadian North, and Charter Operations). While it does have modern features such as large windows and a children’s play area, it also looks to have retained the original carpeting and gate infrastructure.
On the opposite side, Gates 50 -74 handle Air Canada’s mainline operations and Edmonton’s International flights. This side of the Atrium is noticeably more modern from an infrastructure point of view giving off a professional, yet sterile, impression. I did not have a chance to check out the new US concourse, however, I have heard good things about the layout and amenities.
My flight to Vancouver was scheduled to board at 9:35 pm (MST), however, we had to wait a few minutes for our pilots to arrive on their inbound flight. Despite their delayed arrival, we pushed back on time at 10:14 pm (MST) and taxied out to the end of runway 20 for a Southwesterly departure.
Unfortunately, because WestJet’s 737-600s have not been fitted with WestJet Connect, I was unable to watch the rest of Caddyshack. However, because this flight was over an hour, we did receive a full cabin service and I was able to enjoy a nice McCafe and WestJet’s Biscoff cookies. The flight was relatively uneventful; I spent the duration of the flight listening to my iPod and reading WestJet’s in-flight magazine. After a 1 Hour and 9-minute flight, we touched down on runway 26L in Vancouver and arrived at the gate 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
All four of my flights arrived on time and there were no major issues which affected my on-ground or in-flight experience. When I studied at the University of Calgary, I used to alternate between WestJet and Air Canada without any frequent flier loyalty. Both carriers offer comparable economy products, however, I have always found the cabin crew on WestJet flights to be more friendly and down to earth. I’d love the chance to sample more of WestJet’s cabin products, however, at the moment, I don’t have any trips planned.
This story was written by John Jamieson for AirlineReporter.