WestJet Trip Report: Jet or TurboProp?

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Saturday, April 14th: A cold but clear start to the weekend. By Monday the snow had arrived, threatening to delay our return to YVR. (Photo: John Jamieson, April 14th, 2018, YYC)

April 14th, 2018

Flight 1: Vancouver (YVR) to Calgary (YYC)

Flight Number: WS 3110 (operated by WestJet Encore)

Unlike my previous trip to Calgary, where I was able to choose flights based on price irrespective of convenience, my parents did not have the same desire as I had to connect through multiple destinations. As they were paying for my seat, I was in no position to object. Therefore after selecting direct flights, departing Vancouver Saturday morning and returning Monday evening, we were free to plan our schedule in Calgary.

By a quirk of fate, my parents happened to choose an outbound flight which would be operated by WestJet Encore. As with all Encore flights, our flight to Calgary would be operated by a Bombardier Dash-8 Q-400 turboprop. With our return flight scheduled on a Boeing 737, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to compare the in-flight experience of WestJet’s two domestic aircraft: Bombardier’s turboprop versus Boeing’s popular twinjet.

 

With no delayed arrival or equipment malfunction to deal with, we promptly boarded Fin 440 (C-GKWE) on time at 7:39 am and pushed back 2 minutes early at 7:58. In Vancouver, the morning bank of departures typically take-off to the east. Following a 12 minute taxi, where we were unable to see anything except the starboard landing gear, we lined up on runway 8R and were soon climbing out of Vancouver on the way to our cruising altitude of 25,000 feet.

 

Our flight was fairly full, considering the fact that WestJet operates over 10 flights a day between Vancouver and Calgary. Without the ability to take up an entire row to oneself, our Q400 felt slightly cramped; this feeling intensified as the flight progressed. Without WestJet Connect or Seat Back entertainment, the 1-hour 9-minute flight was not as enjoyable as I had hoped. Additionally, when the cabin crew came by with the in-flight service, I was disappointed to learn that our flight did not have McCafe coffee; our coffee was served in un-branded cups and tasted slightly too sweet.

Despite our flight having a few minor issues, we touched down in Calgary at 9:19 am (MST) on runway 17R and reached the gate on-time at 9:27 am. Our Cabin Crew had demonstrated complete professionalism and had created a warm, friendly, atmosphere.

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Our aircraft, C-GKWE, sunbathing on the tarmac in Calgary! (Photo: John Jamieson, April 14th, 2018, YYC)

April 16th, 2018

Flight 2: Calgary (YYC) to Vancouver (YVR)

Flight Number: WS 137

Despite having a “flying” start to the weekend, the final 2 days of our trip fizzled away leaving a bitter taste on the palette. By Monday morning the weather had turned nasty with blizzard conditions threatening to delay our return to Vancouver. Luckily, the worst of the weather had passed by the time we arrived at the airport and we did not even need to de-ice. After experiencing a couple of lengthy delays at the Calgary airport while studying at U of C, I was well aware of the hazards Calgary’s weather could pose.

Our return flight to Vancouver would be operated by a mainline WestJet 737-700. Without seatback entertainment, it looked like it might be another long flight without an enjoyable distraction (The ultimate 3rd world problem: no in-flight entertainment on an hour-long flight); however, as a result of a slight equipment change, our flight was to be operated by an aircraft with WestJet Connect, the carrier’s digital entertainment system. With the NHL playoffs well underway, I tuned into one of the carrier’s two sports channels available through the WestJet App and settled in for the flight.

 

Midway through the flight, our cabin crew came through with the in-flight beverage and pretzel/cookie service. To my delight, they had a pot of McCafe coffee ready and waiting. Having thoroughly enjoyed my beverage, I took a moment to consider the soft products available on WestJet’s competitors.

After examining WestJet’s updated food/beverage menu, I made note of the contemporary items available for purchase. On flights over 2.5 hours, WestJet offers their passengers a selection of tasty sandwiches, a domestic craft beer option, and some tasty Canadian snacks, available for individual purchase or as part of a reasonably priced combo. In my opinion, from a food/beverage standpoint, I have no problem saying that WestJet has at least started narrowing the gap between themselves and Air Canada.

When our flight encountered some minor turbulence on the arrival into Vancouver, I had a moment, as the plane bounced around, to consider the seat comfort on WestJet and it’s competitors. While there may be a difference in seat pitch between WestJet, Encore, Air Canada, Air Transat, etc…, as a 6-foot tall, 200+ pound adult male, any economy class seat will likely have some small fault leading to minor discomfort. If you play your cards right and choose a semi-full flight, you can try and alleviate the problem completely and grab a row to yourself. For that reason, I find it hard to rank airlines for their respective hard products. The only note I would make between WestJet Mainline and Encore is the slight difference in seat pitch (slightly superior on WJA mainline); however, it should be noted that Encore guarantee’s passengers an aisle or window seat, removing the threat of the dreaded middle seat.

 

After our 1 hour and 6-minute flight, we touched down at 7:42 PM (PST) on runway 8L. We had left the gate in Calgary a few minutes early and managed to preserve the savings en-route, arriving at the gate in Vancouver 7 minutes ahead of schedule. With no baggage to collect, we departed the terminal via the departures level and were picked up within 15 minutes of deplaning.

Conclusion:

This is a tough one. When I’ve flown Encore in the past, I’ve been lucky enough to have an entire row to myself. Sharing the row with my father for an hour-long flight was less than ideal* (purely from a comfort standpoint, I certainly enjoyed my father’s company). On our return flight, on the Boeing 737-700, we had a vacant middle seat between us. The extra legroom, shoulder space, and overhead storage capacity was a nice change from the Q-400’s cramped feel.

EDGE: 737-700 (JET)

For in-flight entertainment, meal service, and cabin crew performance, the 737 just edges the Q-400 as well. The ability to use WestJet Connect (or the personal TV depending on the aircraft) is a noticeable benefit over the Q-400, especially on their longer flights. In terms of the food and beverage, it was nice to have the recognized McCafe coffee on the 737-700 as opposed to the “generic” coffee onboard Encore’s Q-400; I had feared that the WestJet-McDonald’s partnership had only been temporary. Cabin Crew performance was identical: professional, competent, and friendly on both flights.

EDGE: 737-700 (JET)

While I certainly prefer boarding from the tarmac using the Q-400’s dedicated air-stairs, that experience alone isn’t enough to swing it in favor of Encore’s operation. For this flight duration, I’ll certainly choose a flight operated by WestJet’s 737 fleet.

CONCLUSION: 737-700 (JET)- slightly

 

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While the JET wins this round, I’m looking forward to experiencing WestJet’s turboprops again in the future. (Photo: John Jamieson, April 16th,2018, YYC)

 

 

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