April 15, 2024

Transformative WestJet

Gold winner of the Onboard Hospitality Cabin Concept of the Year 2020

LAUNCH date: The Spirit of Canada concept launched on domestic flights in February 2019; on Transatlantic flights in April 2019, and on North America routes in May 2019.

Not since its low-cost launch has WestJet embarked on such an ambitious journey. These are truly defining times in the evolution of the airline and the Dreamliner’s Spirit of Canada concept is at the forefront of that change.

Repositioning framework

To position itself for its new global reach, WestJet needed to revisit its brand framework and perceptions in the marketplace. It wanted both existing and new guests to clearly see all the benefits of the enhanced experience and offering, while still maintaining the caring spirit it was built on in 1996.

The goal was to not only change expectations and the way travellers perceived WestJet, but to also over deliver on the expectations of frequent travellers for Premium and Business. Creating a completely new Premium and Business experience was both a challenge and an opportunity.

From humble beginnings, WestJet has evolved its story as a disruptor – taking on big challenges and overcoming obstacles against all odds, and from the announcement of WestJet’s purchase of 787 aircraft, the airline’s guest experience team had just one year to imagine, develop, source and implement a completely new product across three cabins. The goal was to align the offer with the airline’s global ambition, and to stand out from the crowd, providing clear reasons to drive guest choice as part of a complete airline definition.

Design hackathon

To achieve this, the team hosted a design consortium that brought together competing suppliers for one week of focused product development; challenging them to collaborate in a unique, innovative hackathon-style design week.

The results were transformative and created specific new products, drawing on the heritage and hospitality of Canada – its landscapes, multicultural mix and Indigenous roots. The cruet set, for example, is inspired by the Rocky Mountains; and the stitching detail on the Business class seats drew on traditional First Nation designs. The LED lighting imitates the northern lights and a warm Canadian sunrise, and is coupled with an evocative loon call. All products were designed with environmental sustainability in mind – a driver that has continued through more collaborative workshops and ensured an ongoing focus on weight reduction.

The goal was to bring together what guests expect with what is operationally feasible to compete as a true global airline. Concepts for each of the three distinct cabins can be summed up in simple mantras:
1. Business – luxurious privacy: Acknowledge me
2. Premium – elevated attention: Inspire me
3. Economy – leading service: Appreciate me

The concepts were combined with the airline’s largest crew and ground staff training programme including 10 full days of service, hospitality and leadership training developed in collaboration with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and five star hospitality exemplar organisations. WestJet wants its guests to feel they are in Canada from the moment they board. The goal is to bring Canada to the world, and the world to Canada and this is reflected in key onboard elements.

Food philosophy

A new food philosophy and menu approach was developed which brought a unique culinary experience to the aircraft using seasonal, Canadian-local ingredients, and included some developed by chef Bill Alexander of the Tsuu-T’ina First Nation. His creations include braised beef short rib with Saskatoon berry au jus and smoked maple salmon with bison pemmican butter sauce. WestJet also partnered with favourite Canadian restaurants Cora and Moxie’s and food suppliers such as Calgary’s own Pie Junkie.

The airline also built and integrated a programme for young fliers across the whole experience. Children were included in the menu design with a chef-junior workshop and their menus are currently flying onboard on the transatlantic routes. Bespoke signature drinks, a variety of fine Canadian wines (including a Canadian sparkling in Premium and Canadian ice wine in Business), a social area for snacks and refreshments, and a hand-run service in Premium also enhance the overall guest experience.

To guide future development, WestJet has worked with the Humane Society International and Fairtrade Canada to agree development targets for food sourcing sustainability improvements in the coming years.

Distinctly Canadian

The design of the airline’s 787 is distinctly Canadian and uniquely WestJet. Drawing from Canadian themes, three cabin interiors welcome guests with a rich colour palette, a bright and bold turquoise, inspired by stunning mountain glaciers in Economy, aurora inspired shades in Premium and in Business, rich earth tones coupled with smooth shapes and varied textures, echoing Canada’s vast landscape.

In Business, WestJet extended the privacy screens to provide a more cocooned feel and all cabins feature the maple-delta logo, beautifully incorporated into the cabin bulkhead designs to create works of art in themselves.

Dreamliner cabin crews participated in extensive guest experience training, enabling crews to interpret and predict guest needs. Training took place where groups of flight attendants underwent five days of training with instructors from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology & Azuridge Estate to learn about Canadian hospitality.

Local comforts

Business cabin amenity kits were designed by Montreal’s Matt & Nat. They feature plant-based skincare products from Ontario’s Province Apothecary brand. The collection focuses on creativity, functionality, colour and also takes environmental sustainability into consideration. It is largely sourced from high quality, wild crafted ingredients from each Canadian province. Premium Economy features products from Canmore’s Rocky Mountain Soap Company in its amenity kit. In Economy, for added comfort, a certified PET-recycled blanket, a pillow and water is offered on every seat. Also, whilst a small detail, guests and crew have given very positive feedback on the use of Rocky Mountain Soap company items in our Economy lavatories.

Attention was to be paid to all guests, not just the highest spending demographic, and this is evident in the small things, from the selection of French-Canadian entertainment to the children’s Canadian-themed activity kit.

Next-gen Canada

WestJet represents Canada’s next generation global carrier, one that challenges the conventions of legacy carriers and proves that air travel can truly be better. This project aimed to embody the Spirit of Canada and bring this to life. WestJetters from across the business were included in the process with over 1,000 helping define the true Spirit of Canada.

The experience of the guests was at the heart of every decision made and as the unique level of service is rolled out to more guests through new aircraft, products and destinations, the commitment to ensure guests feel cared for in every step of the journey remains key.

Every detail has been meticulously curated and considered for guest wellbeing, as evidenced for example by the amenity kits in Business and Premium which offer ethically-sourced and naturally sustainable products from Matt & Nat, Province Apothecary and The Rocky Mountain Soap Company. WestJet built relationships with partners that not only benefited the guests but matched the airline’s corporate social responsibilities and distinctly Canadian personality.

Additionally, the key elements of this product have been rolled out to Premium cabins across 700+ narrow-body departures a day, to provide a seamless service across all routes. Satisfaction scores have soared!

Standard setting

The intentional thought put into the Dreamliner’s cabin design and onboard concept set the standard for company-wide elevation including updated livery and logo, and a uniform redesign currently underway.

Small details link the different parts of the guest journey with a pure teal thread, from the new website designs and lounge experiences (in development for 2020) through to the signature drink, to tailored onboard music from award-winning Canadian recording artist Sean Jones covering classics by Sarah McLachlan, Burton Cummings and Robbie Robertson. All support the Spirit of Canada concept.

The creation of a complete premium and business offering within the timescale would’ve been a huge step for any airline. Coming off a standing start, it was the WestJet teams and great suppliers that ensured it could be carried through. Everything, from how the airline speaks to its guests, to how the uniforms look and function, to training, food, tableware and packaging has been addressed by the guest experience team.

The changes made to the Dreamliners set the standard for premium service subsequently rolled out across the fleet of 767 and 737 aircraft. The investment is clearly justified by the increase in guest-satisfaction scores on aircraft currently showcasing the Spirit of Canada concept.

The outcome has been transformative across the business. At the same time the collaborative process with competing suppliers working jointly on development was innovative in itself and helped provide the lead for a teamwork approach ensuring alignment.