Customer Service: WestJet vs. Air Canada?

 

air canada and westjet customer serviceWestJet vs. Air Canada – Who has the better customer service?

I fly a lot for my job.  Like most, I have had both horrible customer experiences and outstanding ones.

Because I live in Canada, a significant portion of my experiences are with it’s largest airline, Air Canada.  I’ve actually become a very vocal fan of them, and would rank them amongst the best in the world.  They have come lightyears from where they were a decade ago in terms of customer service and overall customer experience.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that their consistently poor customer service performance opened the door for the upstart WestJet, modeled after Southwest Airlines, to gain a giant share of market.

WestJet began with a focus on great prices, and a fun, friendly, helpful customer experience.  Customers were more than happy to put up with the cramped, aging 737 fleet and the lack of included meals and other amenities, because the people were just so outstanding.

I confess that I haven’t been flying on WestJet much over the last five years or so.  Like so many customers, I have become entrapped by Air Canada’s frequent flyer program.  And, quite frankly, they haven’t given me many service reasons to defect.  Just this week, however, I found myself on a WestJet flight from Ottawa to St. Maarten.  The only Air Canada option that existed was an awkward, long journey with a switch to American Airlines in Miami – at almost twice the price.

It seemed like a perfect opportunity to do a quick comparison of how the two airlines match up.  Here it is in a nutshell:

Ottawa Gate and Ticket Agents

Air Canada:  C+  Never really appear to be very happy, but usually very courteous and efficient

WestJet:  B-  The agent at the check in counter was happy and cheerful.  The one at the gate was efficient, but not much else.  Certainly not to the level I remember from a few years back

Ottawa-Toronto Flight

Air Canada:  B-  This is a gruelling 43 minute shuttle for both airlines.  The flight crew are pretty focused on just getting things, people and food processed. Air Canada has the edge by at least having a free entertainment system and a more comfortable airplane.

WestJet:  C  Pretty much identical to Air Canada, but with cramped seating and a pay-per-view entertainment system

Toronto Gate Agents

Air Canada:  C+  Never really appear to be very happy, but usually very courteous and efficient

WestJet:  A  The agent at the check in counter  was outstanding.  Cheerful announcements to let passengers know what the status of the airplane was.  Really managed customer expectations well.  Great sense of humour.

International Flight

Air Canada:  A-  The flight crew are typically very friendly and helpful.  The meals in economy are better than those of WestJet, and there is always the option to upgrade to business class if one is so inclined.  That free entertainment system is awesome.

WestJet:  A-  Customer service is awesome.  The flight crew were outstanding. One of the snack choices was natchos, and one of the attendants broke into a brief chorus of “Natcho, Natcho Man – I’ve got to be a Natcho Man…” (If you didn’t live through the 70s, you might not appreciate that as much…).  The pilot came out of the cabin to make a personal announcement, which began with him complaining that we were all gong to St. Maarten to stay but he had to turn around and go back.  Fun stuff.  If it wasn’t for the cramped seating and the not-quite-as-good entertainment system, they would have got an A+.

Overall, I’d have to say it was pretty close to a tie.  It would really depend on how much weight you put on comfort on a long flight (cramped seats), and how much you put on the cheerfulness of the employees.  Like I said, I fly a lot, so I really do like my creature comforts – and the option to upgrade.

If I were Air Canada, I think I would be pretty happy with their customer service improvements over the years.  I think WestJet should also be pretty proud.  The 737’s they are flying are well past their prime, but their people and practices more than compensate.  All in all, the Canadian airline industry is doing pretty well

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