What WestJet’s new Bombarider Q400 will look like. Image from Bombardier.
WestJet has announced their plan to start a regional airline using Bombardier Q400s. This is by no means breaking news, but a story that somehow I missed and have been playing catch up and wanted to share some of the things that I have learned.
For those of you who might not be aware of WestJet, they are a low cost carrier, based at Calgary International Airport (YYC) in Alberta, Canada. Previously, they only operated a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft in an all-economy layout.
In January of this year, WestJet stated that they were looking into starting up a smaller subset of their almost 100 fleet of 737s. At the time, WestJet President and CEO, Gregg Saretsky, stated, “A short-haul aircraft combined with WestJet’s brand, balance sheet strength and low-cost structure will allow WestJet to profitably accomplish four main goals: Introduce WestJet’s friendly and caring service to many smaller communities who have asked for our service; optimize the size of aircraft to efficiently increase frequency; create new connections between existing WestJet markets; and build additional feed to our current 71-city network so that we can continue to profitably grow and add shareholder value.”
The airline’s management talked with employees and in February, the airline announced that 91% of employees voted in favor to launch the regional airline. I would imagine that WestJet employees do not have a union is one reason the high number.
Then, the fun part came; which aircraft to buy? Although the photos of the Bombardier Q400 in WestJet livery on this story gives away the answer, they were also considering the ATR 72-600.
What WestJet’s new Bombarider Q400 will look like. Image from Bombardier.
“We are very impressed with the Q400,” Saretsky stated in a press release. “Both ATR and Bombardier put forward excellent proposals and ultimately we believe the Bombardier Q400’s combination of range, speed and seat density is the best choice to meet the needs of the market and how we plan to operate the regional airline.”
WestJet signed a letter of intent to purchase 20 Q400s with the option to purchase an additional 25 aircraft. The airline hopes to start regional service in 2013.
I was curious how the new Q400s would operate in the WestJet fleet and would there be a different customer service product on the Q400?
“The two airlines will operate under separate certificates. However, they will both be WestJet in every respect — culture, guest experience and even livery,” Robert Palmer, spokesperson for WestJet explained to AirlineReporter.com.
The Q400s will be used on flights lasting about one to two hours and the 737s will fly on longer routes. Both airlines will cover domestic and trans-boarder flying and the Q400s will act as a feeder system for the mainline 737s. Palmer also stated that the Q400s might be placed on current routes that have less demand and free up a 737 for additional service.
On top of starting regional service, WestJet has also stated that they will start offering premium economy seating. Each aircraft will have four rows of seats with 36″ of seat pitch and the addition of priority boarding and complimentary on-board amenities.
With Southwest Airlines flying to larger airports and bringing on the 737-800, Allegiant going from one aircraft type to three and WestJet adding regional service and premium seating, it is anyone’s guess what these low cost carriers will do next.
The newest livery on Horizon's Q400 is one for the San Diego State University Aztecs. Image from John David Wicker.
Horizon Air, which operates Capacity Purchase Agreement flights for sister carrier Alaska Airlines, is the eighth largest regional airline and is based in Seattle, WA. Recently, their own Horizon livery disappeared and was replaced by Alaska’s Eskimo, but the airline still retained a nice collection of unique liveries.
On May 31st, Alaska showed off their newest livery: San Diego State University at San Diego International Airport (SAN). The unveiling of the new livery was timed to celebrate the start of Alaska Airlines new San Diego flights to Fresno, Monterey and Santa Rosa, Calif., which began on June 4 and 5.
“We’re proud to add San Diego State University’s bold colors to our fleet of university planes and especially pleased that this aircraft represents our first California school,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “We hope the Aztec plane will bring smiles to our passengers and be a source of pride for SDSU students, alumni and faculty for years to come as we fly it throughout our regional route network.”
It took a crew of eight people working around the clock for seven days at Associated Painters, located in Spokane, WA to paint the SDSU livery. The painting required 32 gallons of white paint, 10 gallons of red paint and four gallons of black paint. In addition, about 2,000 sheets of sandpaper and 10,000 yards of masking tape were also used.
Check out the gallery below for additional special Horizon/Alaska Q400 liveries:
PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW BASICS:
Airline: Porter Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier Q400
Route: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
Seats: 13B (aisle) and 15D (window)
Length: About 70 minutes (each way)
Cheers: Everyone gets treated like they are flying first class — including free wine and beer.
Jeers: Some people might not like riding on a turbo-prop.
Overall: This is the way flying should be — and a rarity to find it on a regional carrier.
Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 sits at Toronto.
THE FULL PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW:
During a recent trip to Toronto, I had the opportunity to fly to Montreal and back using Porter airlines (disclosure: the trip was paid for by Bombardier to check out their Cseries in Montreal). Being based in Seattle and flying Horizon/Alaska quite a bit, I am no stranger to the Q400 aircraft. There have been quite a few times that when I talk to people about the Q400, I am asked if I have tried Porter Airlines. Luckily, I can now say that I have — and that is a good thing.
When flying Porter Airlines, getting to the airport was half the fun. I walked about a mile (could have easily taken a cab, bus or subway, but it was a nice morning), hopped on a shuttle bus, then took the world’s shortest ferry ride. For those that love anything that involves transportation, the experience is pretty cool. So why a ferry? Well, that is kind of a long story.
After arriving at Billy Bishop airport, be sure to turn around and catch the view of the ferry with Toronto in the background.
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is located on an island in Toronto and is restricted to prop aircraft and helicopters. When Porter first began looking at starting operations there, they were under the assumption that a bridge would be built to allow easy access. There was some fun political stuff that went down and no bridge has been built. Instead, the airport runs a small ferry that can hold cars and passengers from the “mainland” over to the island. Don’t blink, because you might miss the ride — it is the shortest ferry ride in the world.
The Toronto Port Authority is in the process of creating a pedestrian tunnel that will allow easier access and reduce the onslaught of passengers that come with each arriving ferry. The ferry will still operate once the tunnel is completed (which they are expecting to be done in 2014), to handle car traffic and presumably passengers who want to get the full experience.
I was staying in downtown Toronto and decided to make the one mile walk to the Royal York Hotel, where Porter Airlines operates a free shuttle to the ferry . Even with the walk, shuttle and ferry, it was less than an hour from my hotel room to my gate, which was quite impressive.
Porter Airlines waiting area is nicer than some airline first class lounges I have been in -- and everyone gets access.
Since all I had was a camera, it was quick and easy for me to get through security. Every time I go through airport security any place that is not in the US, I am reminded how much better it can be. I was greeted with a big smile and asked how I was doing (what… is this a trick?). I asked if I needed to take off my shoes and I was told no. He looked at my belt and said, “that might make the alarm go off,” and I explained it never had before and he let me through (very different from the barking orders that the TSA gives).
This is when things really get different. Instead of having a bunch of uncomfortable seats with bad lighting, the Porter Airlines waiting area is like a first class lounge — and a good one at that. I have been in a few first class lounges of other airlines that have been worse than Porter’s waiting area. There are free drinks and snacks, nothing major, but still impressive. There is free wifi and plenty of comfortable seating.This all comes at no extra charge and is just part of the Porter experience.
Before my flight I had an opportunity to sit down with Brad Cicero and Amanda Ashford, with Porter communications, to learn a bit more about the airline. They explained to me that Porter is looking to add some paid options in their lounge, including ready-to-go food and alcohol.
Porter Airlines offers a comfortable cabin that feels high-end, especially for a regional prop airliner.
Each flight is clearly announced and people line up at one of three doors before heading to one of ten gates. With most regional prop aircraft, you have to (well “get to” for airline fans) go on the tarmac to board. This can be okay some times of the year, but winter in Toronto has a way of getting a bit cold. So, the airline helped to design a customized boot to allow an inside hallway to connect to the aircraft, keeping passengers out of the elements.
The Q400 is not known for having spacious overhead bins (although the Q400nextgen does do a pretty good job) If you have a larger carry-on, you can give it to the Porter employee at the gate and they will return it to you once you land. This is a similar service that Alaska and Frontier Airlines also offer on their Q400s.
Porter has arranged their Q400s with a 34″ seat pitch with 70 seats vs the typical 78 seat set up. All the seats are leather and the interior uses lighter color tones. It felt more like someone’s personal aircraft than an airliner. On both my flights I had a seat mate, which didn’t give me too much room side-to-side — although I am a bit bigger of a guy. I was sitting in the aisle going to Montreal and I would really have to bring my shoulder in from being hit by people passing in the aisle.
Yea, this might have been a 11:30am flight (8:30am Seattle time), but I had to test out the free wine for my story.
Just because the flight was only an hour doesn’t mean that passengers don’t get full service. A bit after take off the flight attendants started down the aisle giving out meal boxes and drinks. On the way to Montreal I had a chicken sandwich with pasta and on the way back was a chicken wrap with veggies. Now, these are not full meal portions, but way more than you would expect in economy on almost any other domestic airline. Not to mention you also get free beer or wine — in a real glass.
The flight attendants have classic uniforms that look professional and the four I was able to interact with seemed to actually enjoy their job and positively interacted with passengers, even though they had a short time line to complete their service.
The weather in Montreal was foggy and a bit snowy, so we did not see the ground until we almost touched down. Even sitting near the rear of the plane, it is always a quick de-boarding process on the Q400.
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) seen from the Porter Airlines Q400.
After a few hours in Montreal, I was back at the airport ready to take another ride on Porter. The ride back was equally enjoyable. This is an airline that seems to be in at the right place at the right time, offering the right service.
They are working towards getting US Customers Pre-Clearance in Toronto, so that they can expand routes into the US that do not have customs. Porter is also planning to bring lounges to additional airports that they serve like Montreal and Newark, sometime in the future.
Previously the airline has not turned a profit and has been around 50% passenger load. Once completing the numbers for 2011, they are hoping to show a profit and occupancy loads to be around 60%, helping to fuel future growth for this unique airline.
VIEW ALL 20 PHOTOS FROM MY PORTER AIRLINES FLIGHT
Frontier Bombarider Q400 (N502LX) sits at Denver, waiting to take me to Aspen.
Being based in Seattle, I have had plenty of opportunities flying on Bombardier Q400s via
Horizon Air Alaska Airlines. When I had the opportunity to recently fly from Seattle to Aspen, for a ride on a Beechcraft Starship, I did not have too many choices on what to fly from Denver (DEN) to Aspen (ASE). I could either fly on a United Airlines CRJ 700 (operated by Skywest) or a Frontier Airlines Q400 (operated by Lynx Aviation). Being the aviation fan that I am, I chose my airline based on the aircraft type and wanted to experience the Q400 flying into Denver — lucky for me, it was the cheaper of the two tickets as well.
When landing at DEN from Seattle (SEA), I had about an hour and a half layover. This was a good thing, since the Q400s are located pretty much at the end of the airport, down some stairs and at the end of a very long and narrow hallway. I kind of wish I would have spent more time in the main terminal, since the waiting area for regional flight do not have too much to offer.
The Q400 is not known for being very roomy, but this flight was almost empty, so I had plenty of room.
Our flight was pretty empty, with about 20 people flying on the 70 passenger aircraft. Boarding was easy with one announcement made for people to start boarding and it only took a few minutes. One of the attractive parts about flying on a regional carrier is the increased chance of boarding on the tarmac. Although most air travelers probably hate boarding this way, for an airline fan, nothing can beat it.
When boarding there was a cart that passengers could put their carry-ons to be placed in the cargo-hold and not in the cabin. All I had was a back-pack, so I opted to bring that on board… bad call. Even though it was small (in carry-on standards) it still wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin. Lucky for me, I had no problems storing under an empty seat, but if the plane was full, stuffing a back-pack under my seat would have really taken a lot of my space.
For weight distribution, everyone sat near the back of the plane. I was in row 7 and I was the farthest to the front and there was no one even around me.
Many passengers might not enjoy this view when looking outside, but I love it.
Unlike Alaska’s Q400s, Frontier’s have sun screens and the seats are able to recline. Sure, nice touches, but this flight was only about 45 minutes, so these features meant little to me.
Engine start up on a turboprop is always my favorite part of the flight and those sweet Pratt & Whitney PW150A engines did not disappoint. Being in row 7, I had a favorable view watching them slowly start up and hearing the growl of the engines. Again, maybe not something the majority of passengers would enjoy, but it is one of the reasons I choose to fly on a Q400 when I have other options.
The views flying from Denver to Aspen were prettying amazing. Flying low in the Q400 sure helped.
As I normally do, I had my camera at the ready to take photos as we took off. Yes, you can yell at me for keeping an electronic on while taking off, but there is no way that a camera is going to affect an airplane. It is very rare for a flight attendant to say something, but this was one of those flights. I was told that I had to turn off my camera and had to wait until we reached 10,000 feet before turning it on… sigh — okay fine. I may not agree with the rules, but I am not going to argue with the person just trying to do their job.
We were also told that we would not be able to turn on our cell phones during the entire flight. Not just airplane mode, but it couldn’t be on at all. My guess is that since we never flew very high, we would still be able to get reception during the flight and possibly cause interference. Either way, I listened and kept my phone off and enjoyed the view out the window.
This wolf pup's name is Wolfgang and he looks pretty much at home in Aspen.
The short flight was pretty bumpy, especially near the end. Again, most people probably wouldn’t like the idea of flying on a turboprop in turbulence, but I actually kind of enjoy it . It was obvious that this plane had been in turbulence before. Even when the bumps were not that bad, but the overhead bins were shaking like it was a huge storm and competed with the engines on making the most noise.
The weather got worse as we got closer to ASE and with the rapid descent, the flight attendants did not even get up to do their final safety check, but asked us to make sure our seats were up and belts buckled for landing. Okay, I can understand that, but they never got up during the entire flight anyhow. Not that I need a drink during a 45 minute flight, but at least getting up once to check on the passengers would probably be a good idea, instead of sitting in your jump seat chit-chatting with each other.
Flying into Aspen was quite beautiful and a bit aggressive. We bounced around as heading down at a steep angle to make it into the airport. As an aviation lover, this flight was great, but I could see how most people would not think the same way. But, if you are looking to fly into Aspen, you do not have much of a choice, other than flying on a CRJ700 or a private plane. Good thing I love flying and most people are willing to do it to experience Aspen.
A few more photos of my Frontier Q400 flight…