WestJet: Destined for an (Not Star) Alliance

Let’s call it what it is. WestJet is Canada’s second largest airline and not so much a low cost airline anymore. Founded as a low cost carrier, it has grown to become a major player in North American travel with its launch of the Boeing 787. For a long time, WestJet was akin to airlines such as Southwest and JetBlue. However, with the introduction of a proper business class cabin on long haul flights, and soon on short hauls once the 737 Max is back in service, it is time for WestJet to take the next step and truly identify as what it is. A full service carrier in an alliance of either SkyTeam or Oneworld.

WestJet has long had partnerships with major airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Delta, and Qantas. In fact, in the summer of July 2018, WestJet and Delta launched a joint venture. This sets them up perfectly for joining SkyTeam. Of course, WestJet is also well positioned to join Oneworld, having codeshare agreements with no less than 5 airlines. So which alliance should they join?


The case for SkyTeam is pretty clear. They would have the support of Delta who they have a joint venture with. WestJet also codeshares with the Air France-KLM Group, Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Korean Air. 

Their network connects perfectly with both the Asian and European airlines. WestJet has hubs at both the Asian gateway and the European gateway to Canada in Vancouver and Toronto respectively. This would connect to 35 Canadian airports not currently served by a member of SkyTeam (including Whitehorse which you can read about here). In many ways, the airline and alliance complement each other perfectly. Most Canadians who fly to Asia don’t have many options beyond Vancouver and Toronto. Beyond Calgary and Montreal, there are none. WestJet’s network would feed travelers to a network predominantly held by Air Canada and its Star Alliance partners. 


Since Canadian Airlines left Oneworld after its merger with Air Canada, Canada has been a Star Alliance stronghold. If SkyTeam and WestJet strike at the right time, they could throw the balance off. It would be beneficial to WestJet as the additional support of SkyTeam members means that they can further expand their domestic network to compete with Air Canada, and means that more SkyTeam members can fly to Canada because they have the connectivity with WestJet. 


Let’s get the most complicated part out of the way. With Alaska Airlines joining Oneworld in 2021, it will be a long and messy road if WestJet wants to join Oneworld. Both airlines have similar structures and compete on certain routes. Neither airline has partnered with each other in the past, and all signs point to them being rivals more than friends. If WestJet were to join Oneworld, they would face an uphill climb with Alaska and American Airlines. 

As well, Oneworld has relocated its headquarters from Vancouver to New York City. They have clearly put less and less focus on the Canadian market and it doesn’t seem that they have a huge interest in it now. It just wouldn’t be the right fit


Now is the time for WestJet to take that leap. So far in its lifetime, it’s played it safe. However, the 787 and launch of business class on long haul routes has made them a new player in the game. Much like a shiny new toy, this is the perfect time for them to capitalize. WestJet has a strong foundation under them and together with Delta and Aeromexico, can create a North American Matrix that would rival Star Alliance with Air Canada and United, and Oneworld which has Alaska and American. A match made in heaven? We think so.

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