WestJet’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners first entered service in late 2018, boasting a brand-new business class product that was designed to propel the airline from its roots as a low-cost carrier into a full-service global airline.
Last week, I was en route to Calgary to preview another major step in that transformation – the new flagship WestJet Elevation Lounge – and along the way, I finally had the chance to try out the new WestJet 787 business class product for myself.
For full transparency, WestJet had arranged my transportation to the event in Calgary in economy class, along with a space-available upgrade into the business class cabin – which was fortunately granted just before check-in on my first flight from Montreal to Toronto.
If I were travelling on my own, I’d consider a few different avenues for booking WestJet 787 business class:
- Booking an Econo or EconoFlex fare with WestJet Dollars (about $200–400 one-way on domestic routes) and then submitting a bid upgrade before check-in, which has a fairly decent chance of clearing these days given the low loads on passenger flights
- Booking a Business fare directly with WestJet Dollars (about $900–1,000 one-way on domestic routes), if you happen to have mastered the art of racking up large sums of WestJet Dollars in a short time
- The new-and-evolved version of WestJet Member Exclusive fares, to be announced very soon, is also expected to provide access into the Business cabin
At the moment, the Dreamliner is flying on WestJet’s key domestic routes of Toronto–Calgary and Toronto–Vancouver. During regular times, the Dreamliner is also frequently deployed on flagship international routes like Toronto or Calgary to London, Paris, or Rome, as well as the Calgary–Maui route.
After a quick and uneventful hop from Montreal over to Toronto onboard a Dash-8, the real spectacle of the evening would begin onboard the WestJet 787 Dreamliner from Toronto to Calgary.
My quick layover in Toronto gave me just enough time to take a peek around Terminal 3 and assess how busy things were looking. It largely mirrored my experience at other Canadian airports recently: there was the occasional flurry of activity whenever a gate was boarding or deplaning, but otherwise the space was relatively empty.
An improvement upon the sheer desolation at the airport back in June, to be sure, but we’ve certainly still got a long way to go in the road to recovery.
After scanning my boarding pass, lowering my mask, and showing my ID, I caught a glimpse of the WestJet 787 through the windows just before the jet bridge. I had been hoping to fly the new WestJet business class ever since it was rolled out, but I simply could never fit it within my schedule – so I was very excited to finally experience it for myself!
WestJet | WS669
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Cabin: Business class
Route: Toronto (YYZ) to Calgary (YYC)
Date: Monday, October 26, 2020
Time: Departing 6:15pm and arriving 8:21pm
Duration: 4 hours 6 minutes
Boarding the plane from the second door on the port side, I was invited to turn left at the far aisle towards Seat 1K. As I was boarding, a crew member was stationed at the door to offer me a sanitizing wipe for me to wipe down my seat later on.
WestJet has chosen a rather intimate layout for its business class cabin, with only 16 lie-flat seats arranged across four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Therefore, the space between the first and second doors of the Dreamliner is allocated towards both business class and premium economy, and you’ll pass by the premium economy seats on your way to the forward cabin.
(As a point of comparison, Air Canada offers seven rows of business class seats in the same configuration on their 787-9s. In my opinion, both airlines’ products are a good fit for their respective roles positions in the Canadian aviation market, with WestJet’s more intimate 16-seater cabin aligning with its identity as the leaner, homelier airline among the two.)
Immediately, I found myself captivated by the cabin colours, which draw upon a palette of teal, brown, and black to create a look and feel that I found both beautiful and unique to WestJet. It was easy to tell what these colours were inspired by and intended to showcase: the natural beauty of Canada, and in particular WestJet’s home of Alberta, whether it’s the mirror-like surface of Lake Louise or the rugged foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Since I was among the last to board the flight, I later asked the crew if I could stay onboard at the end of the flight and take some photos of the empty cabin, and they were happy to oblige. I must say, the cabin finishes looked even more snazzy when combined with the purple mood lighting that WestJet puts on during the boarding process.
Business class is adorned with a subtly stylized angular WestJet logo at both the front and the back of the cabin.
Meanwhile, I also popped back to the premium economy cabin at the end of the flight, which looked equally fine under a shade of dim purple.
Premium economy is arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration across four rows, and if I were travelling on the WestJet 787 and couldn’t snag a business class seat, then these seats certainly wouldn’t be a bad backup option – especially if flying as a couple and sharing one of the twin seats by the windows.
Back to business class, now, where I settled into Seat 1K by the starboard windows.
All 16 Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats on the WestJet Dreamliner are virtually identical, so the only distinction is whether you’d like a window seat or an aisle seat.
Let’s take a comprehensive tour around the seat, starting with the in-flight entertainment monitor straight ahead. It was a lovely touch to see “Good evening, Mr. Zhang” displayed on the screen – a personalized touch that you won’t find on many other airlines around the world, once again reminding you of WestJet’s identity of being the “friendly” airline in Canada.
Beneath the entertainment screen, the tray table can be unlatched with a small handle on its underside. Then, it slides downwards towards you, and folds out into place.
If you’ve flown Air Canada’s Dreamliner or 777 business class before, then WestJet’s tray table, and indeed, most of the Super Diamond hard product itself, is virtually a carbon copy.
Turning towards the windows, we arrive at the seat console and storage compartments. WestJet has leaned heavily into angular geometric designs for their business class product, and it’s featured again here in the form of the lids to the storage compartments.
The larger compartment reveals a space for keeping your loose items during the flight, and in particular your electronic devices, since you can charge them using the power and USB ports while keeping them secured. In addition, this space also houses the headphone jack and entertainment controller.
Importantly, there’s a small gap in the hatch of the storage compartment, so that you’re able to thread the cords for your headphones, entertainment controller, or electronic devices as they’re charging, even while using them throughout the flight.
The smaller compartment contains a more shallow storage unit, as well as a vanity mirror for a quick primp during the flight.
My favourite feature of the seat would be the literature pocket, which effortlessly combined the holder for the reading material with a small accent light in another unified angular design. I must say, if we’re talking about the seat visuals alone, I do find WestJet’s 787 business class more appealing than Air Canada’s more businesslike monochromatic look.
The seat console also features a set of LED touch-screen seat controls. The default home screen simply shows a stylized WestJet logo, and then if you tap again, you’ll be able to access the seat controls themselves. The controls offer the ability to fine-tune each individual seat component, but some features that other airlines offer (like an in-seat massager) are absent.
Looking at the seat cushion itself, you’ll find another instance of the WestJet logo subtly embroidered into the seat. There’s also a three-point shoulder belt, which must be fastened during takeoff and landing.
Over on the opposite side, between your seat and the aisle, you’ll find another storage compartment as part of the armrest here, acting as the default spot for the business class headphones.
In addition to my own Seat 1K, I also popped over to one of the empty aisle seats, Seat 4F, to scope it out.
The only major difference between the aisle and window seats is that there is a privacy partition, which, unlike the rather flawed design on Air Canada’s Dreamliner where the partition is fixed in place, can actually be slid open and shut so that you can speak to your travelling companion if you wish.
Therefore, I think the central seats may be a good choice for couples travelling together on WestJet 787 business class – although you can’t go wrong with the windows if you’d both like to enjoy some views, too.
WestJet’s pre-departure service is pretty limited during these times of the coronavirus: in addition to the sanitizing wipe at the start, the only other item I received was a bottle of Dasani water.
Since I was pretty late to board, it wasn’t too long before WestJet’s rather cute safety video began playing…
…and our plane pushed back from the gate, the captain announcing a flight time of just under four hours in duration.
As we took off into the dimming Toronto sunset, I took the time to browse through WestJet’s very impressive in-flight entertainment system. The resolution is crisp, the touchscreen highly responsive, and the user interface very cleanly designed with modern sensibilities in mind.
I counted about 100 titles each for both the movies and television shows, although as is my general preference when flying, I decided to put on the airshow while I got some work done on my laptop.
The airshow software offers a variety of different viewpoints. For me, part of the fun in watching the flight go by on the airshow is to spot all kinds of little-known communities along the way, and I’m glad this one was no exception.
Soon after we began flying at cruising altitude, the crew began their in-flight service. It’s worth noting that WestJet is currently offering a “modified” (i.e., reduced) level of service, even in business class, so it didn’t take long for the first round of service to be complete.
As of late October 2020, WestJet business class passengers receive a small cold meal box, consisting of a variety of pre-packaged items: a cheese and veggie sandwich, mini-pitas with what seemed like hummus – but was actually “Mediterranean roasted vegetable spread” for dipping, a cookie, and a bag of dried cranberries.
I wish I could say that these pre-packaged items were at least tasty, even if they were sparse, but sadly… they weren’t great. The sandwich was definitely on the dry side, while the dip for the pita bites was a little congealed, which put me off.
With airlines around the world slowly restoring their service in business class little by little (including WestJet’s main domestic competitor, Air Canada), I think it’s high time WestJet did the same to move forward from the cold packaged items and begin inching closer to the former glories of their business class catering.
(Speaking of which, WestJet’s 787 business class was known for its excellent food and drink service prior to the pandemic. The dine-on-demand concept was very popular with passengers – and if anything, the meal service was arguably too elaborate since many reviewers mentioned it took several hours to complete on a short transatlantic flight! In chatting with the crew on this flight, they expressed regret that the full meal service likely would not be returning for the foreseeable future, and I too was pretty bummed out about that fact.)
Fortunately, there’s always the prospect of enjoying a drink at 37,000 feet to soothe my worries. I wish I could’ve washed down the dry-ish sandwich bite with a glass of champagne, but alas, WestJet hasn’t reintroduced bubbly to its modified menu just yet.
So I went with the next best thing: Lancillon white wine – sweet but smooth.
Upon slamming down a couple cups of wine, I paid a visit to the restroom. The business class lavatory is pretty standard for a 787, and is equipped with a baby changing table and a set of hand cream, soap, and mist by Toronto-based cosmetics maker Province Apothecary.
You’ll notice that even here in the restroom, the WestJet logo is ever-present, marking a subtle gradient design along the side wall. It’s clear the airline has taken a lot of pride in their Dreamliner and isn’t afraid to show off a little about it.
For the rest of the flight, I decided to put the seat into recline mode and relax for a while. If this were a long-haul flight during regular times, then the crew is also trained to offer turndown service with blankets and bedding as part of the WestJet business class experience; of course, that service has been cut for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 situation.
In terms of legroom in lie-flat mode, this seat suffers from a common limitation of many other Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats: there isn’t much room to widen your legs while lying down, nor to fully bend your legs if you’d like to sleep on your side. That’s the trade-off for the greater privacy, efficient use of space, and direct aisle access that these seat types offer.
I connected to the wifi on my phone for a while, using the Boingo access pass from my WestJet World Elite Mastercard to connect for free. If you don’t have free Boingo wifi from a Canadian-issued World Elite Mastercard, then the $10.99 price point for 90 minutes of access or $21.99 for a full flight pass might be good value too.
After an extended period of significant turbulence, it was time for the second round of snack service. This took the form of a refill of our drinks, as well as a brown paper bag consisting of a handful of snacks: multigrain crackers with hummus, a KitKat, a granola bar, and a Biscoff biscuit.
There isn’t too much to say about these snacks, aside from… I’d love to see WestJet improving their modified service as soon as possible, to offer something better than a paper bag full of snacks with a sticker on it.
(For what it’s worth, the exact same snack bag was served during my Dash-8 flight from Montreal to Toronto earlier. I thought it was a suitable level of service for that short hop, but the overall food and drink service on this Toronto–Calgary flight wasn’t quite up to scratch compared to the competition.)
Another cup of white wine finished, and the night skyline of Calgary began emerging into view. Eventually, we were instructed to stow our belongings, restore our seats into upright mode, and put on our three-point shoulder belts, as we made a rather bumpy landing into Calgary International Airport.
It was a pleasure to take my long-awaited first flight onboard WestJet 787 Dreamliner business class, and I walked away from the experience feeling very encouraged about WestJet’s future role as Canada’s second airline and its aspirations to rival Air Canada.
In terms of the hard product, the Super Diamond reverse herringbone seat is a virtual carbon copy of what WestJet’s larger competitor offers on the same aircraft; however, WestJet earns a little bit of an edge thanks to its more intimate cabin and unique seat finishes. There’s also the retractable privacy partition in the middle seats, which make WestJet’s seats more attractive for travelling couples than Air Canada’s on the same plane.
Service-wise, while WestJet may have a reputation for a warm and friendly crew (which was certainly true on this flight, where the crew were more than happy to engage in conversation), the modified food and drink service due to COVID-19 definitely needs to be improved – and quickly – if WestJet wishes to tempt passengers away from Air Canada on the Toronto–Calgary and Toronto–Vancouver flagship routes.
(Then again, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, so I’m happy to cut WestJet some slack here.)
Overall, I was satisfied with what WestJet 787 business class will bring to the Canadian flying experience when the travel industry recovers. I can’t wait to try it out on a long-haul flight one day – perhaps with the help of the new-and-evolved WestJet Member Exclusive fares when they launch!