WestJet announces largest-ever expansion

If there's a Canadian airline on the rise, it's definitely WestJet. Originally started in Calgary in 1996, it was originally only going to fly to destinations in western Canada (hence the name). But the airline quickly grew in subsequent years, and is now the second largest airline in Canada (behind Air Canada) and the largest Canadian low-cost carrier. WestJet has, more recently, announced plans to introduce a frequent flier program and has announced a codeshare agreement with Southwest Airlines (another one is in the works with Air France/KLM).

And earlier today, the airline announced what it billed as its "largest-ever seasonal non-stop flight schedule" in the company's history, adding 11 destinations for the winter schedule. Pretty much all of them are warm-weather getaways (Miami, Mexico, Cuba, St. Maarten, etc.) although I was rather surprised to see Atlantic City on the list. Year-round service to Yellowknife from Edmonton and San Diego from Calgary was also added. The airline's transborder and international capacity will increase 45% year over year, compared with just 5% domestically.

"This schedule represents significant expansion on both the transborder (U.S.) and international fronts," said Chris Avery, WestJet's VP, Revenue and Planning. "Both are strategic decisions as we continue to aggressively pursue and earn profitable market share in these critical areas. WestJet is well on its way to becoming the market leader in many of the most popular sun destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean."

WestJet also has to be taking advantage of the rather precarious situation that its chief rival, Air Canada, finds itself in. Air Canada has been dealing with less-than-stellar relations with some of its unions, and is trying to avert a possible strike during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Any significant labor disruption at Air Canada could be enough to push the airline into bankruptcy for the second time in the past ten years - something that WestJet, which is not a unionized carrier, would be sure to exploit.