West Jet Off To A Rough Start With New London Routes Due To Delays, Mechanical Issues

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Canadian carrier West Jet has a hard time operating their new routes to London on time as delays and technical issues with their 767 aircraft continue to build up.

West Jet London

WestJet purchased four wide body 767 aircraft from Qantas which have an average age of 24 years and started to develop frequent and unique defects which take time to repair.

West Jet has built a reputation in Canada for being a reliable and customer friendly airline and the problems with their long haul services could cost them a bit of their reputation.

The CBC already reported about it yesterday (see here).

… A day-long delay going out and a nearly day-long delay coming home. A particularly rough experience, especially for a wedding trip. But the Power’s story is emblematic of a problem with WestJet’s London route, which has been in operation for just over two months.

Airline forums are heavy on complaints. One forum, on airliner.net, has a thread dedicated to WestJet’s Gatwick route. Many angry passengers have taken to Twitter, with one theme: delays, schedule changes, and cancellations.

WestJet announced its service to London a little more than a year ago, its first overseas destination for the four wide-bodied Boeing 767 jets that it bought from Qantas. Those jets have an average age of 24 years, which is the core of the problem. They began to have mechanical problems.

n a video posted to WestJet’s internal YouTube channel on June 16, 2016, chief executive officer Gregg Saretsky explains the problem, calling the route a “hobbled operation.”

“The 767s have been giving us lots of grief, lots of mechanical problems,” said Saretsky in the video.

“We’re finding that when things break, because some of the parts are so old, we don’t have them in store. And then we’re doing a global search through the AOG desk to find them and then it’s taking two or three days to get these things. We don’t want to keep them in stock because they break once every 20 years.”

That older planes develop technical malfunctions is a well known phenomenon. Even though aircraft can fly for a long long time if they are properly taken care of (as I would suspect Qantas planes are) there comes the time when things simply break and as mentioned these items are often not something a small airline keeps on the shelf which makes long delays inevitable.

I really wonder how they got the idea that it’s a good decision to acquire these planes because low cost carriers usually make their money with short turnaround times and reliable operations so they can use their aircraft the maximum amount of time. To get 24 year old 767 was just asking for trouble.

To ease the situation, WestJet contracted an Omni Air jet to stand in when one of the Boeing 767s needs repairs.

Ian Procter was on one of those flights, an experience that he describes as a bait-and-switch, since he had made plans to use WestJet’s in-flight entertainment system for the nine-hour flight from Calgary to London.

Instead the Omni Jet had no personal entertainment system and no WestJet Connect, which is the service that allows passengers to play content on their iPads. The screens were in the middle aisle, there were no power outlets and less leg room than expected.

Obviously whenever there is a charter to substitute an airlines own plane the product is vastly different from what is being advertised and it’s already a far stretch to call a 9 hour flight from Canada’s West Coast to London on a budget carrier comfortable. At least their inflight wifi and entertainment option would ease some of the pain and give the passengers the option to occupy their time.

Here is how WestJet advertises their B767 on Youtube:

And then there is this staff walkthrough:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbhJwfS0rZk

I had to chuckle a little bit when the lady said ‘Welcome to our BRAND NEW 767’. Though as you can see the aircraft looks decent in the interior you wouldn’t imagine this plane to be 20+ years old.

You can imagine that any charter flight will be a far stretch from can be seen here and I’d be not amused to fly on some dumpy charter flight compared to the newly fitted WestJet plane.

But it’s not only the passengers who have to suffer from these operational issues. It also threatens WestJet’s bottom line as European flights are subject to EC261/2004 passenger protection legislation which penalizes the airline for each 4 hour+ delay with a mandatory payment of 600 EUR in cash to the passenger as compensation. This could cost the company more than 200,000$ per flight.

What does Westjet say? Their comment to CBC was:

WestJet also said that fewer than five per cent of the flights to London have been cancelled and “In every case we either chartered an aircraft or provided guests with travel on other airlines to ensure the issues with their travel plans were mitigated as quickly as possible.”

“This is a temporary situation and we fully anticipate to be operating at our normal performance levels in the near future.”

Let’s hope this future ‘normal performance’ will arrive quickly without WestJet losing too much money and the passengers won’t experience any more delays and plane swaps.

Conclusion

WestJet might have overreached their level of competency with these long haul flights. They are great for flights within North America but going on an overseas trip it’s an entirely different matter. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not better to just focus on what an airline can do best instead of growing into areas where new equipment is needed, especially if the carrier doesn’t have the money to purchase new aircraft.

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