When it’s not freezing cold, Calgary’s pretty amazing in the winter. Photo: John Jamieson
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.
Westjet Encore Bombardier Q400 C-FENY at North Peace Regional Airport (YXJ) in Ft. St. John BC, under a beautiful blue sky. Photo: Howard Slutsken | AirlineReporter.com
This was going to be a great day for AirlineReporter.com’s Canadian “Senior Contributor.” That would be me!
I was flying with a new Canadian airline in a brand new Canadian-built plane, traveling from a major Canadian airport over some stunning Canadian landscape, and visiting the headquarters of one of “Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures,” which happens to be a major Canadian airline. The Flight Attendants might have made it even more Canadian by greeting me at the plane’s door with a Timmy’s “Double-Double” and a hockey stick. That didn’t happen.
Translation? I’m flying with WestJet Encore on a Bombardier Q400 from Vancouver (YVR) over the Canadian Coast Range and Rocky Mountains, and visiting Westjet’s base in Calgary (YYC). I’ll leave it to you to find out about Timmy’s.
WestJet Encore began flying in late June with two 78-seat Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprops. Since then, five of their initial order of 20 Q400s have been delivered, and they have options on another 25 planes. WestJet Encore augments WestJet’s Boeing 737-based route structure with regional flights of distances up to 700 miles. That’s about a two hour flight time for the Q400, but most destinations are 60 to 90 minutes apart. Having the Q400 in the fleet will give WestJet the flexibility to fly to new destinations, add additional frequencies to current destinations, or “right size” the service throughout their network by swapping 737s with Q400s. The Q400s are pretty quick, with flight times within 10-20 minutes of a 737 over these short distances.
The first destinations included Nanaimo, BC in the west, and as far east as Saskatoon, SK. As more planes come into the fleet, Encore is adding destinations and continuing their expansion eastwards. Encore brought WestJet service back to Brandon, MB in September, a destination that previously couldn’t support WS 737 service. This YYC-YBR flight is currently Encore’s longest, at a bit under 2 hours. In addition to adding direct regional flights to the WestJet schedule, Encore will look to keep travellers “in the family” by providing connections to mainline WS flights, and those operated by codeshare partners. Encore is also part of the “WestJet Rewards” frequent-flier program, and shares facilities with WS at common destinations.
This morning at 11:28 AM (Mountain Time), Westjet Encore‘s first passenger flight left Calgary, Alberta (YYC) for Nanaimo, BC (YCD). The flight was operated by one of the two 78-seat Bombardier Q400s that Westjet Encore has received from their initial order of 20 planes. The other initial destinations for this soon-to-be-growing regional airline are Fort St. John, Victoria and Vancouver, BC, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Brandon, Manitoba will be added in early September. They’ll continue to grow as another 5 Q400s come into the fleet before year-end.
It’s clear that Westjet has positioned their new airline to try and break the monopoly that Air Canada Express (Jazz Aviation/Chorus Aviation) has enjoyed over the years in many smaller Canadian communities. In fact, Ferio Puglieses, the new airline’s President, is pretty blunt about their objectives: “WestJet Encore is here to liberate smaller communities from the high cost of regional air travel while continuing to provide every guest with our award winning culture of care.”