Promising start: A review of WestJet’s business class on the 787-9 from London to Calgary
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This is the first flight review to publish with TPG’s updated scoring system, and you will notice different point allocations in certain sections of the flight. To read more about the changes, see this post.
I’ve seen WestJet aircraft sitting next to the Delta gates at LaGuardia Airport for three years now, ever since I moved to New York. But I never paid much attention to Canada’s other large airline. This year, though, that’s changed in a big way.
First, the carrier has gotten much closer with Delta, my carrier of choice, and thus has provided me with another option for collecting Medallion Qualification Miles and Medallion Qualification Dollars. Second, the airline has begun receiving brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, equipped with a very competitive-looking business-class product that it flies between Canada and Europe.
Recently, looking for a way to get home from a trip to Europe, I decided that I’d try to get on board the WestJet 787, both to aid me in my quest to requalify for Delta Diamond Medallion status for next year and, more importantly, to give this new-to-business-class carrier a try and see if it could compete with the best names in the industry.
Short answer: Yes, it sure can.
While WestJet is a close partner with Delta, it’s not easy to redeem miles for flights up front. Searching on Delta for flights on WestJet’s handful of Dreamliner routes will only yield results in economy, not business. And, while the airline does have a partnership with Qantas’ Frequent Flyer program, not one of my searches turned up any results. Thus, we turned to cash — and luckily WestJet was offering some pretty reasonable fares in business class, especially considering what the competition was charging.
We paid a total of $1,772 (~£1,433) for the one-way flight between London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) and WestJet’s home base in Calgary, Canada (YYC), and round-trip tickets were pricing out at about double that cost, around $3,500 (~£2,830).
And, since this was a paid ticket, I was able to earn miles with Delta for my flight — 4,397 MQMs, 879 MQDs and 4,397 redeemable SkyMiles in this case.
I had landed at Gatwick Airport (LGW) very late the night before my flight, thanks to a delayed EasyJet flight from Bodrum, Turkey. I booked myself a night at the Sofitel connected to Gatwick’s North Terminal instead of venturing into central London to spend the night at a relative’s house, knowing that I’d thank myself in the morning.
Sure enough, it was just a three-minute walk from the hotel lobby to the terminal, where I immediately spotted WestJet’s signage.
Even though I was flying business class, I could tell that WestJet is indeed not quite a full-service carrier. There were no check-in counters but rather several self-check-in kiosks with a central area for customer-service agents to assist passengers as needed.
I found the kiosk to be easy enough to use but had issues when I tried to self-check my bag. It was slightly overweight, so it wasn’t allowing me to send it on to Calgary Airport (YYC). Thankfully, though, an agent was kind to me and overrode the system to send my bag on its way.
After that, I asked about which lounge I’d be allowed to visit. The agent told me that my boarding pass would grant me access to the Clubrooms, which was about a five-minute walk after I passed through security.
The lounge itself was quite small, but I enjoyed it for the most part.
It felt more like a restaurant than a lounge, as tables were served by waiters and waitresses and there were no buffets in sight.
Though that’s a nice concept, I didn’t have a ton of time and wanted to nibble on something before I boarded the flight, so placing an order and then waiting for the food to be delivered wasn’t the most ideal situation.
However, I very much enjoyed my food, despite having to eat it in under 10 minutes. Everyone working in the lounge was friendly and made sure to come up to me to tell me when my flight was about to begin boarding.
Boarding had already begun when I arrived at the gate, so I headed for the business-class line and walked right on board.
Cabin and Seat
The business-class cabin on WestJet’s 787-9s is small and intimate, with 16 seats spread across four rows.
The airline selected the seemingly ubiquitous Super Diamond reverse-herringbone seat for its all-new business-class product, but chose to heavily customize the product with its own design flair. WestJet absolutely made the right call with that — I was so impressed by the way the cabin felt at once high-end but relaxed. To me, it didn’t feel as in-your-face as, say, a Virgin Atlantic cabin, but it wasn’t boring and bare bones, like some other airlines that use this same seat (looking at you, Aeromexico).
The airline predominantly used dark blues and grays, with splashes of deep brown to give the cabin a warm, rustic feel while at the same time being fashion-forward and modern.
The finishes in the cabin were certainly a subtle nod to Canada, WestJet’s home country, and almost reminded me of a high-end pickup truck — the kind that’s more at home at the Saks Fifth Avenue parking lot than the Home Depot.
Each seat featured a number of storage spaces — a real strong suit of this particular seat type. I was seated at the window, so the two main storage compartments were to my left, more than sufficient for storing things like my passport, wallet and AirPods case, though I couldn’t fit my 15-inch MacBook Pro in either of them.
Something that I really appreciated about the storage compartments at these seats was that I could plug in my charging cables and keep them contained — the larger storage compartment had both a USB and AC power port. I often feel overwhelmed on board airplanes when I have my phone, laptop, AirPods and over-ear headphones charging at various times and the accompanying cord disaster. This way, I could keep most of that out of sight.
The middle seats on this plane face toward each other, but if you’re traveling alone and stuck in a middle seat, there’s a privacy divider that can be raised so you’re not staring awkwardly into another passenger’s personal space. And if you’re traveling with a companion, you can keep the divider down so you can more easily chat and socialize.
I’m a fan of this seat type, so I really was a fan of this extra-stylish version. Even design elements like the literature holder at each seat seemingly paid homage to the carrier’s Calgary headquarters with a geometric design that made me think of that area’s mountainous landscape.
Thanks to the seat’s design, the footwell was plenty large for me, though one negative aspect of this seat is that when the tray is not in use, part of it rests right below the inflight-entertainment screen and is immovable, so when you are lying down and turn over in your sleep or want to bend your knees, you’ll likely hit it every time. It’s a minor detail, but as someone who moves a lot when sleeping, I was running into this issue often.
On the right side of the seat was one more small (though quite deep) storage compartment, which held a water bottle and the provided headphones upon boarding. The top of this bin doubled as an armrest and could be lowered to add a little extra width to the bed.
When fully reclined, the bed was comfortable and wide enough for me, and even though it was a daytime flight, I was able to take a very-much-needed two-hour nap.
Amenities and IFE
Waiting at my seat when I boarded were a comfortable and high-quality pillow and plush blanket that felt like it would have been right at home on a comfortable couch in someone’s living room.
Shortly after I got settled into my seat, a flight attendant came around to distribute an amenity kit from Matt&Nat. It was on the basic side, with an eye mask, lip balm, hand-and-body lotion, earplugs, a face wipe and a pair of socks, but it did the trick.
Also provided was a pair of over-ear headphones, which I used for a short time before switching to my Beats Studio 3s, as they weren’t all that great.
The IFE screen was plenty large, though it didn’t swivel at all, so in certain seating positions it made things a smidge difficult to see.
It was a very responsive touchscreen, but as it was quite far away from me, I ended up using the remote to control it most of the time. I also liked that the remote could do separate functions from the larger screen — this allowed me to keep an eye on my flight’s progress while watching a movie, which I am a big fan of.
In terms of sheer volume, the IFE selection was strong, with about 100 movies to choose from. But as I dug into the selection, I wasn’t impressed. There just weren’t all that many flicks that appealed to me, though I finally was able to find two to watch — one during the first meal and one after my nap during the second meal.
Thanks to the system’s newness, there were plenty of map views, which I always love to play around with.
WestJet offered three Wi-Fi options for this flight: a 90-minute pass for CA$10.99 (about $8), a full-flight pass for CA$21.99 (about $17) and a 24-hour pass for CA$32.99 (about $25). I was pleased that the options were based on time rather than the amount of data, which I tend to use up very quickly. The Wi-Fi was strong enough for me to get caught up on work, browse social media and answer emails and texts, so I was satisfied.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
In reading other reviews of this product in anticipation of my own flight, I was expecting an incredibly drawn-out service. Frankly, I was ready to not stop eating for the entire flight. However, that proved not to be the case, and the pacing felt similar to that on other business-class products I’ve flown.
Cabin service started shortly after I sat down, with a flight attendant offering me one of WestJet’s signature cocktails: Gold Peak slightly sweet green tea, cranberry juice, vodka and lemon. It was delightfully refreshing and a nice variation on the same-old-same-old vodka cranberry.
Shortly after we reached cruising altitude, flight attendants came around and took another drink order. I asked for another signature cocktail. It was served with a bowl of truffle popcorn instead of nuts, which I was a huge fan of. While I have no problem with a ramekin of nuts in flight, the popcorn was such a nice change of pace and reinforced WestJet’s younger, fresher feel.
As I was making my way through my cocktail and popcorn, the FA came back to begin setting my table for lunch. I was impressed by the way it was set and by the silverware and plating. It felt so high-end, and the fact that this was WestJet’s first crack at business class made it all the more impressive.
Even the salt-and-pepper shakers were stylized! Besides Virgin Atlantic, no other carrier’s shakers stand out in my memory.
Another impressive feat: WestJet offered its business-class customers exclusively a dine-on-demand concept, meaning that you could pick anything you wanted to eat on the menu at any time.
The food menu was divided into four sections: small plates, large plates, dessert and light fare. I chose a more traditional meal progression, so I asked the flight attendant for a small plate followed by a large plate and that dessert was still TBD, as I’m usually stuffed after the main course.
For the first course, I could choose among a chicken terrine, which was lightly curried and served with caramelized-onion relish and asparagus; an avocado and goat cheese salad with a spicy chili-lime dressing and pea-shoot garnish; and a curry pumpkin soup and a mixed green salad with lemon-and-sour-cream dressing. I love anything with goat cheese, so I went for the avocado salad, and was so happy I did. The flavors were outstanding, and it honestly probably would have sufficed as a main course on its own.
For the main course, I could have red-wine-braised beef cheek with potatoes, shallots, carrots and green beans; Chinese-style chu hou chicken with mixed vegetables, garlic-and-ginger sauce and udon noodles; or wild mushroom ragout with rice, with broccolini and sautéed red onion and shimeji mushrooms.
Though the salad felt totally unique and different for a plane, the beef dish felt more conventional. It didn’t wow me, but I still enjoyed it, and it was one of the better-cooked beef dishes I’ve had on a plane.
I had a feeling I’d be too full for dessert, and I was right. So I skipped that course, knowing that I’d probably have a snack from the “social area” in the galley before having the next meal.
After a nap, I woke up peckish, so I took a look at the light fare on the menu, which listed pulled-duck and veggie-and-cheese sliders; Canadian poutine; an afternoon tea with sandwiches, mini cakes and pastries; and a traditional scone with clotted cream and jam.
I immediately knew that I wanted the poutine. I mean, how could I not? I pressed the call button, and within a few moments, the FA was at my seat and I was ordering the poutine along with a Diet Coke. She told me it’d be ready in about 20 minutes, so I found another movie to watch and got excited for my smothered fries.
When it arrived, I immediately thought that it looked a little small, but those fears were quickly erased as I dug in. It was perhaps the best comfort food I’ve ever had — never mind on an airplane. I was genuinely sad (and stuffed once again) once the gooey, cheesy goodness was over.
Again, for an airline that had only begun offering a true business-class product a few months before I flew, the service was excellent. Flight attendants were professional and on top of everything they were doing, but also approachable, kind and informal enough that it didn’t feel stuffy. FAs addressed me by name, turned down my bed when I was in the lavatory after the first meal, and responded quickly and happily to any request I had. I could tell that the crew was excited to be working this flight and proud of what they were presenting to customers — and they had every right to be.
I had a truly memorable flight with WestJet. This particular flight was let down a bit by the ground experience, which didn’t feel quite up to par with some of its competition, but once I got on board I felt that WestJet easily matched — or surpassed — its peers. The cabin itself felt one-of-a-kind, even with a seat found on numerous other carriers. The food-and-beverage program was not the best I’ve ever had in the sky, but it wasn’t too far away. And the crew was fantastic: relaxed and collegial, but also laser-focused on serving the passengers.
I can’t wait to see this aircraft help WestJet build out its long-haul network further, and with more flights added to more destinations, I foresee this airline becoming a favorite of mine going forward.
All photos by the author.
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