WestJet’s experience with direct flights from Halifax to Glasgow, Scotland helped the Calgarybased airline decide to add two new direct flights from Halifax to London and to Paris, says Ed Sims, WestJet’s executive vicepresident, commercial.
“We’ve always got a hundred destinations we can fly to and from. What I love about Halifaxand what I love about Nova Scotia is the size of the opportunity,” Sims said in an interview Monday. “I see that in three different ways. One, I don’t think the region has been well served at a pricing level and I think there’s a really great opportunity to introduce genuinely world-competitive fares into and out of this region. There’s a big population (in Halifax) and there’s a growing wealthy demographic, which is particularly relevant for us in order to expand, particularly our premium travellers, and we see a lot of that here in Nova Scotia. Three, we have ultra-long-range narrow-bodied aircraft that can fly to places like Paris and Gatwick (London) comfortably.”
WestJet will begin service with daily flights between Halifax and Paris on May 31 and on April 29, the airline will start daily service between Halifax and London.
Since 2012, WestJet’s traffic from Halifax has grown by more than 160 per cent. WestJet currently serves 16 cities from the Halifax airport, up from six in 2013, including 10 Canadian, two trans-border, one international and three European destinations.
At peak summer schedule, the airline, which currently employs about 100 people in Halifax, will operate more than 25 flights per day from Halifax.
WestJet has been watching the Brexit talks in the United Kingdom and European trade negotiations, Sims said, and the company didn’t want to have all of its eggs in one basket, especially if the U.K.’s Brexit departure happens earlier than anticipated.
The airline wants to have a foothold on mainland Europe, he said.
“I think a lot of Nova Scotians know both France and the U.K. really well . . . that’s a powerful pull, particularly at the $199 price level . . . but on the trade perspective there’s a lot of cargo we can carry on both to and from those destinations,” he said.
Sims was in Halifax Monday to announce WestJet would be flying the Boeing 737-8 MAX on the new routes to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and Gatwick Airport in London during the airline’s summer schedule. In addition, WestJet will add one flight to Halifax from Calgary, for a total of 15 weekly flights.
“Guests, historically, are really comfortable on a six- or sevenhour flight on a single-aisle aircraft and the MAX takes that level of comfort to an absolute new sphere,” he said.
Boeing based the 737-8 MAX on its ultra-long-range wide-body aircraft, said Sims. The primary difference is a quieter flight, improved personal space, there’s room for an additional 60 bags on board, additional headroom above each guest’s seat, and new initiatives such as mood lighting and ovens on board.
“So it genuinely feels like an international long-haul aircraft rather than a domestic narrowbodied aircraft,” he said, adding that WestJet has five of the 737-8 MAX in service now and over the next four years that number will increase to 50.
Now that WestJet will have three full-fledged international routes up and running from Halifax, it creates great opportunities for more.
Introductory fares from Halifax to Paris or London are available now for an all-in price of just $199 one way.
-THE CHRONICLE HERALD - ROGER TAYLOR