Needing to get home to Seattle from a recent trip to Europe, options abounded. After a few weeks of searching, a shockingly affordable business class ticket appeared from Amsterdam to Calgary on Canadian carrier WestJet. Multiple friends have flown on it; each spoke highly of the product and overall experience. At $750US it was only a few hundred more than premium economy, and about the same price as a nonstop economy ticket to Seattle. I excitedly purchased the ticket.
The adventure started early on a foggy December morning in Amsterdam with an email notification announcing a delay of 40 minutes. Unfortunately this was not surprising; a review of Flightradar24 data to plan an onward connection home to Seattle showed the flight had not left on time in months. Today would not be an exception.
Shipping out from Schiphol
Check-in opened three hours early, with a small crowd already gathered at the stanchions, ready to get going. An agent processed my ticket, checked my bag, and sent me on my way.
With multiple hours to whittle away, I made an obligatory visit to the airport’s famed observation deck and did some last minute cheese shopping. Thankfully security checks were efficient and fast in typical Schiphol fashion, a far cry from the hours-long meltdowns the airport has suffered on and off over the past year.
Feeling a bit peckish and ready to rest my legs I went in search of WestJet’s lounge for premium passengers. Curiously, they have neither their own nor one on contract in Amsterdam. It is the only international station in the system, not counting the US, that doesn’t have one. It was disappointing, but a quiet corner off by the gate did the trick.
On board the WestJet 787
Boarding began at its new time just after 3pm. I stowed my bags in the overhead bins aboard our Boeing 787-9 jet before settling into seat 4A. I noticed that the IFE screen welcomed me aboard by name, a nice touch. A pillow and plastic-wrapped duvet were waiting on the seat, along with a pair of headphones, water bottle, and amenity kit.
WestJet’s business class cabin is quite small, with only four rows arranged in an industry standard one-two-one reverse herringbone configuration. The color palette is dark, leaning into earthier blues, black, and grays. Hits of brown helped lend the cabin a warmer, cozier feel, perhaps mimicking an inviting lakeside cabin.
A crew member came by welcoming me aboard, and offered to show me how to use the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat. They later passed out menus and offered the usual pre-departure beverage service.
Buttoned-up and ready to go, it seemed as though we just might get out only a bit behind schedule after all. But instead we sat on the plane at the gate for two more hours. Apparently the aircraft’s logbook had been misplaced by maintenance.
Crews repeatedly apologized for the delay as onward connection hopes evaporated, and were regularly about the cabin offering water. Mercifully, the Panasonic Avionics-powered inflight entertainment system was left on.
Once the logbook appeared it was still another hour until takeoff as we sat in line for de-ice and then departure. I was already on my second full-length movie as the jet slipped the bounds of earth and began the eight-and-a-half hour flight to Calgary some three hours late.
I was under the impression from prior reviews that WestJet offered a dine-on-demand model. So I was somewhat surprised when the first of two meal services began thirty minutes after departure. Maybe the crew was off from the long delay, or maybe the service was a COVID casualty. I’m not sure, but it was a bit disappointing.
My initial drink order wasn’t stocked; my backup option showed up twenty minutes later alongside a package of nuts. They were tasty, but the presentation was not exactly premium. Unfortunately the wrong appetizer showed up thirty minutes later. The service was moving slowly, and I was pretty hungry (remember, no lounge snacks!), so I ate it anyways.
The main entrée appeared over an hour after the service began, featuring a beef short rib with potatoes and broccoli. It was good enough, but not great. A desert of chocolate cake was merely fine. Plates were cleared quickly and efficiently. Start to finish, the service took just over 90 minutes.
For better or worse, I slept through the second meal service. I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t feel like I missed much.
Seat, IFE/C shine
What didn’t underwhelm was the hard product, based on the aforementioned Super Diamond seat. Common in business class cabins the world over, the seat is one of my favorites. It has plenty of storage, a nice big screen, and is quite comfortable in the full-flat position despite a short pitch of 46 inches. The seat makes up for that with a tapered foot well, extending the length to around 60. It has a standard width of 21 inches.
It also has all of the usual whiz-bangs like reading lights, USB and international plug-style power, tray table, etc. Yet angular features and stylized surfaces, which feel like allusions to Canada’s icy far north, add a personalized flare to the seat that help it stand apart from the crowd.
The Panasonic eX3 inflight entertainment system had an average stock of content. I had no issue finding a movie to watch, especially with a number of holiday favorites loaded on for the season.
Each flick displayed beautifully on the 18-inch touch screen, which was very responsive. It can also be run via a tethered remote that tucks into one of the larger storage spaces, which due to the distance from the seat itself is the more common method of operation. The remote can also run a separate function from the larger screen, allowing you to watch a movie and keep the super fun map app open at the same time.
WestJet also offers WiFi via Panasonic’s popular Ku-band satellite system. Prices range from CAD 2.99 for messaging only to CAD 21.99 for fully flight access. A two hour pass, which appears to have no data limits but only time, was CAD 12.99. Knowing I planned to sleep a good while, I bought the messaging pass, which worked smoothly throughout the flight.
Having woken up not long before landing, the crew was unable to provide me the second meal service. But they did offer me a warm cup of tea and a packaged duo of cookies. I enjoyed the mug, designed to remind you of the northern lights.
The flight made up some time in the air en route, landing a mere 2.5hrs late. Thankfully I had already moved my connecting travel to the next morning, and instead of fretting about a missed connection, I picked up my bag after a 30 minute wait and headed to a nearby hotel.
The experience, in the end, was mixed. Between rave reviews from several friends and the chattering travel class on the internet, my expectations were very high. The meal service and catering were a let down, with wrong items delivered and others missing altogether. The lack of a pre-departure lounge on a premium ticket was inconvenient.
This was not entirely their fault, but the delay was substantial, and had I stuck with my original itinerary I would’ve missed my connection by over an hour. This appears to be a regular occurrence for WestJet out of Amsterdam, while the KLM flight operates largely on time.
The cabin was stellar, though, and one of the better designed ones I’ve flown in. From the mugs to the literature pocket design, and I loved that WestJet put so much thought and intentionality into the product. It came through in a wonderful way.
That said, Europe to Seattle via Calgary is not the most efficient way home. While a number of components met my very high expectations, enough missed that I wouldn’t go out of my way for WestJet business again unless the price was just right.
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