Gregg Saretsky On ‘The WestJet Effect’ & Methodical Growth
Open Jaw by Nina Slawek
Gregg Saretsky sporting custom WS tartan at YHZ inaugural
WS Tartan Tail arriving at GLA
As Open Jaw
travelled with WestJet on its inaugural YYZ-GLA flight, there was plenty of
time to chat with CEO Gregg Saretsky on the flight path that has taken the
airline a long way from its genesis as a single aircraft type, domestic
stretching our wings beyond anybody's imagination in 1996 and even 5 years
ago," Saretsky said. “But we are being true to our foundation of providing low
cost transportation. So these flights to Europe (DUB & GLA) are so
successful largely because we offer tremendous value to the traveller. Low
fares. Great friendly WS service. So we haven't really strayed from our model."
says that even as WS evolves its product with the addition of larger aircraft
and a Plus product with empty middle seats in the 1st 3 rows, it is
remaining true to its roots.
“It is not
business class. We are selling it as premium economy. This same product in
Europe is sold as business class. If you fly BA or KLM without the middle seat
it's a C class fare. But were' doing that on our economy fare which we think
will also revolutionize business travel in Canada," Saretsky said.
creeping towards creating a full-fledged business class? Saretsky doesn't rule
it out, but maintains that WS will always keep a focus on lower fares and
you've heard me say never say never. There is an unmet need today in the
Canadian business market for a business product at a fare that companies can
afford. Our competitor has very high business fares in Canada and you're either
sitting in business class or you're sitting behind their curtain – so, in our
case, there is no business class. It is premium economy, so the whole curtain
thing is not there."
says that despite troubles in the oil patch, high capacity in the Sun market
and reports from retailers that the industry as a whole has been soft of late,
WS is still achieving solid performance.
still turning out record results. Record loads. Growing our capacity this year
by 4.5% to 5.5% and demand is strong. We are obviously seeing some softness in
Alberta and in the oil patch. But some of the changes in the marketplace
include the fact that these oil execs used to fly charter flights from east to
west and that traffic is now on scheduled service. My guess is WS has gotten
some of that boost. We are not feeling the full effect of what's going on in
the oil patch."
characterizes as “fantastic," the growth and success of regional carrier
reached their national footprint in April with service to YFC. It's been very
well received there. That was a market where there was a monopoly and fares
were very high. We've changed that dynamic and the marketplace has responded.
We call it the Westjet effect, where you drop fares by 40% to 50% and traffic
grows by 50% to 70%.
People are making 2 trips for the same price they
paid for 1 previously."
As of 15JUL, Encore will expand further into Atlantic Canada and Saretsky says
the service will be welcomed.
a lot of business people that travel between YHZ & YQY and that 45 min.
flight with no competition is regularly $800+. So we are coming in all
inclusive with taxes in at $137. People are over the moon."
agrees that the winter Sun market remains plagued by excess capacity.
one victim of that - CanJet Vacations. Very short stay in the market. Market
forces always prevail. Transat is also struggling. We had a good season but not
as good as in the past. Lots of capacity – a lot of that from rouge with
wide-bodies in markets that only previously had narrow-bodies – so there are a
lot of seats chasing a market which is pretty mature."
of wide-bodies on domestic routes like YYZ-YYC and on flights to Hawaii is
another step forward for WS, Saretsky told Open Jaw.
planes have ovens! So for almost the 1
st time in our 20 yr. history,
we can serve hot food. And in the Plus section of 24 seats - these are
Qantas business class seats – we can offer more leg room, leg rests and
complimentary hot meal service. So it's quite a big change for us."
says it won't be until September or October when an announcement is made on
wide-body plans for 2016. There will be ocean crossings involved for sure, with
the expansion of trans-Atlantic routes the most likely scenario.
baby steps," says Saretsky. “The service to DUB was a huge success. With the
non-stop service and the right fares, we were full all last summer. And we
learned how to sell in Euros. And this year we had to make our website
available to sell in pounds Sterling, which of course takes care of all of the
rest of Britain if that's something we might want to do down the road.
continues its steady climb to higher altitudes, Saretsky continues to believe
that slow and steady wins the race.
going at this very methodically, very carefully."