Founded By David Neeleman: The History Of WestJet

Since commencing flights in 1996, WestJet has grown to become Canada’s second-largest airline with over 100 destinations in its network. The airline was co-founded by David Neeleman and aimed to emulate the successful low-cost model of Southwest Airlines and Morris Air. WestJet has transitioned to a full-service carrier in recent years, flying to destinations across North America, Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean.

WestJet is now Canada’s second-largest airline. Photo: Getty Images

WestJet was founded in 1994 and operated its inaugural flight in February 1996. Initially serving a growing network of domestic destinations, WestJet went international in 2004 by expanding its network to the United States. In 2007, the airline added seasonal flights to the Caribbean and Mexico as it became a worthy rival to the dominant Air Canada. In 2017, WestJet began transitioning to a full-service carrier. The airline was bought out by Onex Corporation in 2019 as part of a CAD$5 billion ($3.75 billion) deal.

A new Canadian low-cost carrier

Looking to replicate the success of low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, a consortium of aviation professionals and investors, including Clive Beddoe and David Neeleman, co-founded WestJet in 1994. The airline’s inaugural flight took off on February 29th, 1996.

Initially, WestJet flew to a small network of Western Canadian cities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg. At the time, WestJet operated with a small fleet of three Boeing 737-200s and 220 employees.

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David Neeleman was involved in co-founding WestJet. Photo: Getty Images

At the turn of the millennium, WestJet expanded into Eastern Canada, including Ottawa, Hamilton and Moncton. By 2002, WestJet had added Toronto and London, Ontario to its growing domestic network and began to challenge the dominance of Air Canada.

At this time, the airline also started taking delivery of Boeing 737 Next-Generation aircraft (737-600s and 737-700s) to replace its inaugural fleet. By 2005, the airline had retired all of its 737-200s.

International expansion

Building on its domestic success, WestJet began international flights in 2004 with several U.S destinations added to its network, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Orlando. The airline’s U.S network grew rapidly, with enviable destinations like Hawaii and Las Vegas introduced in 2005.

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The airline began operating international flights in 2004. Photo: Getty Images

In 2007, WestJet began looking beyond the U.S, with seasonal destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean added to its network. The airline moved into new headquarters at Calgary International Airport in 2009 and continued to expand its international network over the coming years.

A new fleet and full-service transition

In 2012, WestJet took delivery of its 100th Boeing 737 Next-Generation aircraft, remaining an all-Boeing airline throughout its history. In 2013, the airline signed a letter of intent to purchase 65 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, with deliveries commencing in 2017.

According to ch-aviation, WestJet has taken delivery of 14 737 MAX aircraft. However, WestJet had to cancel 15 MAX orders this year due to cost-cutting, although it still has an order for 27 remaining MAXs.

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WestJet has remained an all-Boeing airline throughout its history. Photo: Getty Images

The airline also welcomed its first widebody aircraft in the form of the Boeing 767-300, helping it to expand internationally. In 2018, WestJet invested in the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner as it transitioned to a full-service carrier. In 2019, Onex Corporation bought WestJet in a CAD$5 billion ($3.75 billion) deal.

While the COVID pandemic caused great disruption for WestJet, the airline is hopeful it can rebound and build on its earlier successes.

What do you think of WestJet’s services? How frequently do you fly with them? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.