Air Canada vs. Westjet

I'm sure this is a tired topic, but everyone has an opinion on it, so I figure I'll share mine.

I'm by no means a frequent flyer, in fact I signed up for Aeroplan so I could get the $3 discount per flight leg by being able to decline the Aeroplan points. They'll probably expire before I get anything out of them.

Here's my take:

Neither has ever lost my luggage. Neither has given me poor service.

When I book, I generally go with whichever is cheaper. I suppose with Air Canada there's always the chance of getting bumped up to first/business class, but I would think with technology these days, they're pretty good at not overbooking (methinks), or at least good at not giving me any upgrades. Ever. Westjet, having just one class (Seinfeld's Elaine got what she wanted: a classless society), means no upgrades!

My Air Canada vs. Westjet Thoughts for Canadian Domestic Flights

  • I do hear that Air Canada sometimes does overbook flights (the whole seat: GTE thing), but even when I have gotten that, I was still on my intended flight. Supposedly Westjet does not do this at all, so I guess that's a point for them.
  • I vastly prefer Air Canada's seatback on-demand entertainment system to Westjet's 24 channels of TV. The internet has ruined my attention span for watching regular TV with annoying commercials and not being able to watch what I want on-demand. In fact, if both Air Canada and Westjet had the same fare, I'd go with Air Canada because I prefer their system.
    • Air Canada's has an AC plug and USB plug in almost every seat for easy power/charging. Westjet has neither.
  • Air Canada is unionized, which isn't a slight toward unions, but there always seems to be a risk of one of their underlying unions (whether it be pilots, flight attendants, booking agents, etc), going on strike and messing up your travels. With Westjet, there is no such risk.
  • Westjet doesn't charge extra for a sports bag, while Air Canada does, so that's something to consider if you're bringing skis/snowboards. Based on my previous experiences lugging skis across Canada, don't do it, just bring your boots that fit nicely, and rent skis/boards. If you can't tell, I'm not _that_ serious of a skier
  • In my opinion, Air Canada has better food (though you do have to pay for it, I do like airline food)
  • Air Canada's flight was once just slightly late, and they gave all of us a free beer
  • Once I did have a Westjet flight get delayed on the tarmac due to a passenger count discrepancy (the count on the plane didn't match the flight paperwork, supposedly an errant ticket name change didn't take correctly, and that was a 1hr or so delay, meh, I think it was a freak accident thing rather than the sign of a genuine problem)
  • Once I was on a Vancouver--->Toronto Air Canada flight that was empty, as in, no one in front, behind, or in the same row as you. It made for good nap time.

When I'm booking, those are the only factors I really consider. Simply because one person has a horror story of one or the other doesn't mean that particular airline has a higher chance of causing a horror story. I think the employees behind each genuinely do what they can to get you to your destination.

If I were going to the US, I wouldn't think about flying out of Canada, I'd drive to Buffalo/Niagara Falls (or whatever border airport equivalent you have, I feel bad for those from Edmonton/Calgary). Sometimes a domestic US flight is cheaper than the taxes on a US-->Canada flight. I wouldn't doubt for a second that Air Canada and perhaps Westjet are very top-heavy organizations, I simply don't know why popular domestic Canadian routes have such comparably higher fares than a similarly distanced US domestic flight.

Protips: The wine is often the cheapest alcohol as measured by alcohol content. Consider getting noise-insulating earbud headphones if you're a frequent flyer. They're what I use, and they function as excellent earphone/earplugs. There are cheaper ones than that one, but using them as much as I do, I paid for quality :)  

Excellent! I'd say you could

Excellent! I'd say you could even ditch the USB wall adaptor, and just plug the USB devices into the laptop to charge them. I also wrap my duct tape around a pen, so it's a bit easier to use if necessary.

Flying from Toronto versus Buffalo

I've had to do quite a bit of traveling to the US in the past few years, and I've avoided going in and out of Toronto in every case (except one) because of the massive price difference. I have also found some airlines, particularly Southwest, to be overall better in terms of quality. I actually find seat comfort to be better on Southwest versus Air Canada's A320 business class seat - and I'm not kidding! However, you need to learn how Southwest works given its a very different experience from most other airlines.

Here are some examples:

Washington DC, June 2011:

YYZ-DCA Air Canada - ~$700 round trip including everything (I think it included 1 free bag at the time)
BUF-BWI Southwest $120 round trip (including everything and 2[!] free bags) plus $3 roundtrip for the Megabus from Toronto to Buffalo Airport

San Francisco, January 2012:

YYZ-SFO Air Canada ~ $600 round trip (no free bags)
BUF-SFO Southwest $280 Round Trip (2 free bags included - not including the $14 bus fare from Toronto to Buffalo Airport).

Washington DC, June 2012

YYZ-DCA Air Canada ~ $500 round trip (no free bags)
BUF-BWI Southwest $120 round trip (2 free bags included - not including the $14 bus fare from Toronto to Buffalo airport)

I did, however, have to route myself BUF-JFK (JetBlue) and LGA-YYZ (WestJet) because of timing issues once and to avoid the horrendous taxes on the 'going' part. It was a little more (maybe $30) than if I were to go through BUF both ways, but I thought it was worth it. If you can get a reasonable one-way ticket from BUF to wherever you're flying to in the US and another one from wherever you need to fly from in the US to YYZ this is a much more convenient, and sometimes marginally more expensive way to do it.

Once Air Canada tried to

Once Air Canada tried to charge me because they were going to seat me and my 2-year-old separately! They said I should have paid for advance seat selection. I said I thought that was if you wanted specific seats.. I don't care where we sit, but surely you wouldn't make a 2-year-old sit without their mom! The guy insisted I should have paid for seat selection. I asked to speak to a supervisor because I didn't think they were being serious. The supervisor confirmed that I should have paid to ensure my 2-year-old sat beside me. Basically we said this is a safety issue and I'm sure a stranger doesn't want a 2-year-old beside them anyways. I told them I was going to take a 5-minute walk (because I was pissed that they were actually putting us apart from each other) and when I came back I wanted it fixed. They did fix it.. but told me next time to pay the seat selection fee. I haven't flown with them since. WestJet service is always excellent!

Depending on what kind of

Depending on what kind of plane you're seated on, the other bet would be to ask for seats that are along the same row, and gamble that you'll be able to politely ask some of those people along that row to switch seats for you once you're on the plane.

Of course, some people probably choose a middle seat because they just want to be sure they aren't seated near any parents with their children, just other single travellers.

I suspect the agent wanted to give you two seats next to each other (they'll do that whether you're parent-child or two full adults), but there was no such arrangement available, and they were stuck, but wouldn't have been stuck, had you just paid for seat selection in advance. They probably bumped someone from their original seat for you (and just might have broken up another group), which is a pain in the rear end to all involved.

Indeed Westjet's seat selection costs $$$ too except within the last 24 hours before a flight. If you check-in late enough with Westjet, you could still be stuck with only single seats being available and causing the same predicament that you had with Air Canada.

Moral of the story: every service guarantee/upgrade has a price, and if you want to try your hand at getting side-by-side seats without paying for it, be sure to check-in before everyone else does. And use internet/web check-in exactly 24 hours before your flight, don't ever check-in at the airport, and that goes for both airlines and likely others.

US Luggage

Also bear in mind that Air Canada charges for the FIRST bag if traveling to the US - cost me $50 round trip.
Westjet waives this fee (for now anyway)...

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