WestJet Dreamliner fills up for its maiden flight to Rome

The itinerary is not just about taking Albertans abroad, there will be an influx of Italian tourists landing in Calgary

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WestJet is set to make its first trip to Rome, a trip that took three years.

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The Calgary-based airline was supposed to launch the destination in spring 2020 as the first nonstop flight to Italy from YYC, but those plans have been anchored by the pandemic.

On Saturday evening, a WestJet Dreamliner will host a nearly full flight with cannolis and goody bags as it rolls onto the runway at 6:20 p.m.

“We are incredibly excited and thrilled to have our inaugural tomorrow (Saturday),” said Angela Avery, executive vice president of external affairs and chief legal officer in an interview with Postmedia on Friday. “People are excited to go to Italy, the pandemic has been around for so long that Italy is a place that is a dream destination for so many Canadians.”

The itinerary isn’t just about taking Albertans abroad, as there will be an influx of Italian tourists landing in Calgary at 4:19 p.m. Sunday, with nearly all of the flight’s 320 seats booked for the return trip . The seasonal route will build up to three flights per week during the summer.

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Calgary-based airline analyst Rick Erickson said the route alone would have a $25 million impact on Alberta’s economy. He said it will be a launch point for the airline deeper into Europe than before and is part of a wider expansion strategy. This spring, WestJet also announced a return to the UK with flights to London Gatwick and, for the first time, London Heathrow. Elsewhere in Europe, the airline has also restarted flights to Dublin and Paris. The result of all this European commitment will be a forecast of 1,000 jobs and $150 million for the local economy.

Interior cabin of WestJet's Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which began flying in 2019.
Interior cabin of WestJet’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which began flying in 2019. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia file

This is just the start with more routes likely to open in the future – although Avery was unable to comment further. This was also signaled by the hiring of new CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech, who was an executive at Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines.

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Erickson said he was confident WestJet was planning even more on the horizon.

“I think Europe is just the first part of that,” he said. “There are still other destinations to visit in Europe, they are still building their global network, they are also developing their expertise. But after Europe, I think they have to turn to Asia.

It is not just its European connections that are doing well: domestic services are bouncing back from the pandemic. In March, the airline was at 60% of its pre-COVID passenger levels, rising to 72% in April, with Avery expecting to reach 85% in May.

She said there has been a noticeable improvement in bookings with each health order or restriction lifted.

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The other important factor for the Calgary-Rome route is the increased capacity to transport cargo to and from Europe using WestJet’s growing Boeing 787 fleet. Although primarily a passenger route, WestJet will take advantage of the Dreamliner’s size to ship cargo. The route’s inaugural flight will take pharmaceuticals to Italy and bring back high-end fashion items. Air freight is an increasingly critical element for the industry, especially as supply chains become bogged down at shipping ports.

“There was a lot of demand for transatlantic freight throughout the pandemic,” Avery said. “We believe that we will continue to develop this activity very quickly. We have new freighters that have arrived in the WestJet fleet and we have a lot of cargo booked for this flight tomorrow.

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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