WestJet London Gatwick Flight Review

WestJet Inaugural Vancouver to London Flight Review

When I first read that WestJet was going to begin flying non-stop to London's Gatwick Airport, I was extremely excited at the prospect of affordable airfares to Europe, which would enable me to visit relatives in England more frequently. WestJet, a low-cost carrier in Canada, happens to be a code-share partner of Philippine Airlines.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
I purchased my ticket on September 15, 2015 immediately as they went on sale for the first time on WestJet's website. I was pleased to obtain one of the introductory fares, which was nearly half the price a passenger would normally pay for a flight from Vancouver to London. That left only the need to find some London hotel deals.

Although Air Canada had lowered their fares to match WestJet's introductory price, I was enticed by the opportunity to fly on-board the inaugural flight to London, which for WestJet, would be a very historic occasion. Moreover, it satisfied my curiosity to fly aboard the carrier's Boeing 767 wide-body aircraft and experience what would eventually become WestJet's long-haul product. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you are planning on reserving a flight to London and cannot decide which airline to fly, there is a large asterix that must be placed beside WestJet's airfare. Indeed, WestJet does offer very competitive fares and they have done the travelling public a great service by adding a new competitive element to the market, which has brought down the cost of air fares between Canada and the United Kingdom. 

However, it is important to note that there are incidental costs that the unsuspecting passenger may not realize when booking their ticket. When you purchase a ticket to London on WestJet, you need to pay extra for checked-luggage, meals, and in some cases, in-flight entertainment. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As WestJet does not have any seat-back televisions, one is required to use their own personal electronic device to access their wireless in-flight entertainment system. That means if you did not bring an electronic device such as a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, you will need to rent one of WestJet's tablets in order to watch movies in-flight.

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While none of this is necessarily a problem, I must stress to everyone doing their flight research to not assume that WestJet offers the lowest price on this route. If Air Canada matches WestJet's airfare, they technically become the cheapest airline as they do not charge extra for meals, entertainment, or checked luggage. Please note this would not be true in the case of flights operated by Air Canada Rouge. However, even Air Transat has WestJet beat in this category as they include meals, entertainment, and one piece of checked luggage on flights bound for the United Kingdom.

THE INAUGURAL FLIGHT

As I had an early connecting flight from Victoria, I already had my boarding passes all ready to go by the time I reached Vancouver International Airport. I made a point to arrive especially early so that I could take in the expected festivities. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The boarding gate, D67, was completely decked out in all things London up to and including the Union Jack and a red British telephone booth. There was a photo booth, where passengers were able to take a commemorative photo of themselves in front of a London landmark such as Tower Bridge. There was also a DJ blasting a number of popular British hits from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

westjet london inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As this was expected to be a highly publicised event with media in attendance, a special area was set up for the official press conference that would include representatives from WestJet, the Government of British Columbia, and Vancouver International Airport. A number of passengers waiting to board the inaugural flight were also interviewed for the news.

westjet london flight inaugural
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet vancouver to london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Prior to the start of the press conference, the cabin crew of the inaugural flight posed for a photograph with WestJet's President & CEO Gregg Saretsky, who was also scheduled to travel on the flight. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The Press Conference kicked off prior to boarding with a speech from Craig Richmond, President & CEO of the Vancouver International Airport Authority.

craig richmond yvr
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet inaugural flight london
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Shirley Bond, BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training followed with a speech of her own.

westjet ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Last, but certainly not least, we heard from the President & CEO of WestJet, Gregg Saretsky.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the customary presentation of an aircraft model, the ribbon ceremony was held. After the ribbon was cut, passengers were invited to indulge in the various refreshments that had been laid out including cupcakes, sandwiches, and beverages prior to the commencement of the boarding process. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
THE WESTJET BOEING 767-300ER ON-BOARD EXPERIENCE

After the festivities had ended, passengers began settling into their seats for what would be a completely full flight. As we boarded the aircraft, guests were handed a gift bag that was filled with a greeting card, chocolate, WestJet's Premium Ear Buds, and a set of Charging Cables. I guess they forgot the free flight? The last two items are usually sold on board the aircraft for $9.99 and $14.99 respectively.

The Boeing 767-300ER is the first wide-body aircraft in the WestJet fleet. It has enabled the carrier to operate its own long-haul flights with a range of nearly 11,000 kilometres.

westjet boeing 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
WestJet currently operates a fleet of four of these aircraft. They are ex-Qantas aircraft with an average age of 23.9 years. The cabin features a total of 262 seats with 238 economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, and 24 premium 'WestJet Plus' seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. The economy seats offer a 31" seat pitch with a 17.3" width, while Plus seats feature a 38" seat pitch with a 20" width. You might find it worth the extra money to upgrade. 

westjet connect
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

When you sit down, you may be surprised to discover that you are staring at a blank seat. That's because there is not a single seat-back monitor on board this aircraft. The Boeing 767 fleet is equipped with WestJet Connect, the low-cost carrier's wireless in-flight entertainment system. 

The system offers passengers wireless internet connectivity for an additional charge and complimentary access to more than 300 television programs and 85 movies if you have brought your own device. Otherwise, you can rent a tablet for a fee. Passengers will need to download the latest version of the WestJet app prior to boarding.

The back of each seat aboard the Boeing 767 has been specially equipped with a holder for passengers to mount their tablets, as long as they do not exceed 1 kilogram in weight. The aircraft seats are also equipped with USB power outlets and apparently, 110-volt outlets. However, my seat-mate and I failed to locate a 110-volt outlet on both the outbound and return flights. That is indeed a problem for those who are using their laptops to access WestJet Connect.

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN

ON-BOARD SERVICE

The on-board service began with a snack and beverage service. As this was the inaugural flight, one complimentary alcoholic beverage was provided as a courtesy to each guest. This was accompanied by a choice of either pretzels or cookies. It might be worthy to note that both Air Canada and Air Transat do provide alcoholic beverages at no additional charge, while WestJet does charge extra for alcoholic beverages although non-alcoholic selections are complimentary.

After the snack was served, it was time for meal service -- if you had pre-ordered one. WestJet served passengers like myself that had pre-ordered a meal, before they came through the cabin with the buy-on-board service. I can imagine some passengers must have been starving by the time the buy-on-board service arrived. WestJet does not include a hot meal with the purchase of tickets to London. This has drawn mixed reviews from passengers. WestJet claims that it provides passengers with the flexibility to save money and pay only for the services they want. However, that argument only stands if a passenger is actually saving money compared to flying Air Transat or Air Canada. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you buy from the pre-purchase menu on the WestJet website, you can order a selection of hot meals that includes a light snack prior to landing. I took advantage of this service and paid the standard $14.99 charge. Alternatively, if you buy on board, the meal without the snack would cost $8.99. I would say that the snack is not worth the additional $6.

The meal choices included Tomato and Tarragon Chicken, Red Wine Braised Beef, or Creamy Marinara Cannelloni. In honesty, none of the choices appealed to me and I ended up selecting the pasta. 
westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Generally speaking, my expectation for airline food is low. However, when you are forced to pay an additional $15 for it, I do expect a little more. In fairness, it was relatively tasty but for the most part on par with the quality of an individual microwaveable frozen pasta that you might purchase in a grocery store. This was accompanied by a stale chocolate brownie and a salad that would probably leave even the slimmest rabbit feeling hungry. 

Truly, I was appalled at what I received after paying $15 for a meal. It was not fair value at all and it was not even on par with the complimentary meals served by other carriers. It seemed that WestJet had selected the cheapest possible ingredients and there wasn't even a bread roll with butter included. 

I find it quite disappointing when a complimentary meal on a competing carrier exceeds the quality of an in-flight meal that one had to pay extra for. In addition, this isn't a case of "I got what I paid for" because I could have booked a flight on a competing carrier for the very same price of my WestJet ticket. Overall, my advice to fellow passengers is to skip the WestJet meal and buy a nice hearty meal inside the airport prior to departure. You'll get much better value and feel more satisfied.

westjet president ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the meal service, WestJet's President & CEO, came through the cabin to help clear meal trays and garbage. He took time to ask the passengers for their feedback on the inaugural flight. I was impressed that he made the effort to engage with passengers. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing at London's Gatwick Airport, the cabin crew delivered the second portion of my pre-paid meal, a light snack of banana bread and sliced apples. It was hardly the continental breakfast that I have been accustomed to on other carriers, but it was adequate. 

The flight attendants then came through the cabin again with another round of beverages and buy-on-board. But on this service, WestJet's CEO took the place of one of the attendants serving the beverages, which was another impressive move on his part. We eventually arrived at Gatwick on-time and without incident. 

THE RETURN FLIGHT

I was hoping that my WestJet flight back to Canada on May 23rd would have been as uneventful as the first one, but the mediocrity began before I even departed for the airport. I received a notification that my flight had been cancelled the evening prior to my scheduled departure. In the e-mail, I was presented with the option of rescheduling and flying back on another date or flying on the same date but routing through Toronto. 

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Although I was not pleased as the new schedule would have me home prior to midnight as opposed to dinner time when I was originally scheduled to arrive, I took the option of the flight via Toronto as I had to get back for work. I arrived at London Gatwick Airport with plenty of time to spare. I must say that after Vancouver Airport, London Gatwick leaves much to be desired in terms of comfort and service.

When our flight was called to the boarding gate, the agents had us all form a long line and wait to board even though there was a completely empty boarding lounge filled with seats. As I stood in line, I learned that we were about to board a rescue flight that had been sent into transport passengers that had been displaced due to the cancelled flight. 

Apparently, one of WestJet's 767 aircraft had broken down the day before and they were unable to get a part to fix the aircraft in a timely manner. This resulted in not only the cancellation of my flight but several others as well. This caused some passengers to be stranded in London for another day. This is indeed the downside of flying with a carrier with a limited wide-body fleet as there are no spare aircraft that are readily available when one breaks down. In addition, break downs are to be expected when you are operating aircraft that are more than twenty years old.

After boarding the aircraft, the flight was delayed further because a passenger had become ill on board and wanted to disembark. We ended up being delayed around thirty minutes, which would not have been so bad except for the fact that I had an extremely tight connection in Toronto that would leave me only 45 minutes to clear customs, collect my luggage, and head to my next flight. Although I made it in the end, it made for a rather stressful experience at the prospect of being stranded in Toronto overnight.

On board the aircraft, the service was much the same. Tensions were high as all of the passengers had been inconvenienced in one way or another due to being on board a rescue flight. However, the cabin crew did their best and I must give special mention to a flight attendant from South Africa named Suzanne, who really made a special effort to bring light to a negative situation. 

She was very kind and patient with passengers and made the effort to check on them and engage them in conversation regularly. She stood out by a long shot against the other cabin crew, who didn't even come close to her level of service. In spite of her efforts, passengers including myself seemed disappointed that WestJet had not made any gesture to compensate the passengers for all the hassle and inconvenience -- a complimentary meal or alcoholic beverage would have gone a long way to addressing disappointment.

The rest of the flight seemed consistent with the inaugural flight in spite of the delays. However, I noticed that this time, pre-ordered meals were served simultaneously with the buy-on-board service. The meal choices on the return flight were different: Sweet Bell Pepper Chicken, Shepherd's Pie, and Butternut Squash Ravioli. Although I am partial to Shepherd's Pie, I won't pay $14.99 for it. Therefore, I ordered the ravioli.

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
All I can say is that this was the greatest disappointment of all. Firstly, the cabin crew had no record that I had even ordered a meal. Thankfully, I was able to produce a receipt that I printed at home proving that I had pre-paid for it. Secondly, they didn't have any of the side dishes available at the time of service. The flight attendant said, "Hopefully, we'll be back with the rest of your meal if we can find some." I thought they better find some as I had paid for it!

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While the cannelloni I was served on the outbound flight was decent, the ravioli was absolutely disgusting. The pasta lacked sauce and overall, it was dry, hard, and freezer-burned. It's obvious to the naked eye seeing the discolouration of the pasta. I could not believe that I had paid $15 for that, when it was below the quality of a $1.99 frozen pasta at the grocery store!

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The flight attendants later returned with the remainder of the meal, which was an oatmeal raisin cookie and pasta salad. Although I was incredibly disappointed that I paid $15 for the meal, it turned out when I arrived home that I didn't end up paying anything for it. 

Since my original flight was cancelled, WestJet's computer system automatically cancelled and refunded the purchase of my meal. Although it ended up being a happy accident to my benefit, it is a bit alarming that my order was not transferred to my new flight schedule as I could have ended up without a meal at all. 

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing in Toronto, I received the light snack that I had ordered with my pre-purchase meal. It was an extremely basic cheese sandwich wrapped in cling film.

westjet meal
"WestJet Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
It looked like something that your mother might have packed for a school lunch - very bland and underwhelming in every way possible. Compare this to the complimentary cheese sandwich that I received on a British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona. I paid only £40 for that two-hour flight and both the sandwich and packaging were much more impressive.

british airways meal
"British Airways Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
SHOULD YOU FLY WESTJET TO LONDON?

I consciously chose to fly WestJet to London as they have worked hard to earn an enviable reputation for their domestic and trans-border flights in Canada. I am thankful that they have brought down the cost of airfares between the United Kingdom and Canada. However, I would likely never fly with them to London again unless they improve the quality of their product and service. 

It would be completely fair to receive a sub-standard product if I had saved a considerable amount of money over competing carriers because it is acceptable to receive less when you have paid less for it. But in this instance, there was a choice and I could have flown Air Canada mainline or Air Transat for the same price and I would have undoubtedly received better value. To add insult to injury, the in-flight meal that I paid for with WestJet ended up being well below the standard of complimentary services that are included in the cost of a ticket with competing carriers. After paying extra for checked luggage, meals, and not even having seat-back televisions screens, I can equate this experience to nothing more than a flying school bus.  

I must disclose that I did receive compensation from WestJet for the delayed return flight. However, that is a credit to the European Union's Denied-Boarding and Delayed Flight Regulations. While I appreciate my compensation, I can't help but wonder what gesture WestJet would have made had the regulations not been in place. Overall, I was disappointed with the experience. It did not meet my expectations and WestJet's long-haul product leaves much to be desired. Growing pains are expected in the beginning but I sincerely hope that they will focus on improving.

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Questions or Comments? Send us an e-mail at info@philippineflightnetwork.com

Related Articles:

4 comments:

  1. An outstanding TripReport.

    Being an Australian, in about 2012 I travelled on a recently refurbished Qantas Boeing 767-300 that is probably now in the WestJet fleet.

    I recall that the strap was hopeless for securing the supplied iPad. It kept threatening to fall to the floor, so I used the tray table instead.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looks awful. Dumb of them to offer the most crummy cheap meals. Charge more and offer better meals. In addition the planes are too old.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I HOPE you filed for EC261/2004 compensation as it certainly seems well-deserved here.

    http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your review. I was seriously considering this flight but I will now look at another carrier. As a side note, did you ever receive PAL points from Philippine Airlines for this WestJet flight.

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Blogger.