7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

I’m a total fangirl for great marketing campaigns and above-and-beyond customer service.

(Yes, actually.)

So, no surprise, I was really into it when this video of WestJet’s epic Christmas miracle went viral.


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(If that made you shed a holiday tear or two, it’s cool. The internet feels the same way.)

Part of the appeal of this video was how genuine it was. This was a good company doing a good thing, and it got peoples’ attention…including mine.

But WestJet should have had our attention a long time ago. Why? Because they’re basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian airlines. Seriously.

Here are 7 stories/facts to back that up.  (Note: I have no affiliation with WestJet. Or with Mr. Rogers, for that matter. Zero. I’m just being a total fangirl here.)

1) WestJet employees helped a customer grieve the loss of his family dog.

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If you’ve ever lost a pet, you can relate to the heartbreak this blogger felt when his 7 year old family dog, Hunter, passed away unexpectedly last month. He bought a ticket for the first flight he could find–a 10 am West Jet departure–and headed to the airport. When he got there at 7:55 am, he realized there was an 8:15 flight about to leave. Twenty minutes. Never gonna happen, right?

That’s when things got amazing.

One of the WestJet check-in people must have spotted me. She immediately came from behind the counter and asked if I’m OK or needed help. I told her my dog had just died and I needed to just get home as soon as possible. I remember I had tears at this point. She then did the one thing for me I needed most at this point.  She gave me a big hug of support. She then told me I will be on the 8:15 flight. She called the gate and told them to hold the flight as they had a family emergency coming, rebooked me onto the flight seating me in the front row, and escorted me to the front of the security line. With a final hug she wished me well and sent me towards the flight.

You guys. You guys. I’m melting right now. How sweet is that?

Oh, and this wasn’t just one nice lady. It gets better.

During the flight I was trying to hold myself together as I had a bit of travel to do as yet.  One of the flight attendants noticed my tears, offered me some kleenex and asked if it was allergies. Again I explained my dog had just died. Immediately he stopped what he was doing and spent the next 10  minutes with me (it was only a 40 minute flight so that’s a lot of time!) The flight attendant and I shared stories and pictures. It was nice to be able to talk about Hunter with someone.

He goes on to say that  it only took him only 3 hours to get from that first Ottawa airport encounter to his doorstep in Kitchener. I live in Ottawa, and my family (including our dog, Ella) lives in Kitchener, so I know how fast that kind of travel time is. It’s fast.

I can only imagine how devestating and “I NEED TO GET HOME NOW NOW NOW” it would be if Ella passed away suddenly. I’m sure that compassion and solid service meant the world to this guy.

2) WestJet found a customer’s lost cat…then took her to a vet and flew her home for free.

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When WestJet employees found Willow, a customer’s missing cat, her grieving owner had already left the airport with a heavy heart.  The WestJet response? Totally spot on.

1) They contacted the owner, and gave her updates every step of the way.
2) They brought the cat to a vet immediately to make sure she was okay.
3) They flew the cat home free of charge.
4) When the story got press, they made sure to send out a tweet acknowledging an Air Canada agent who helped to coax the cat out.

The lost cat was not WestJet’s fault.  The kennel was not properly secured, and two cats escaped “after ground handlers picked up their kennel and the bottom fell out of it.” They had no obligation here, not really.  But they did everything they could anyways. Why? Because they’re awesome.

3) Not a cat person? Don’t worry. WestJet helps find missing kids, too.

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WestJet has a partnership with the Missing Children Society of Canada. That means they cover the flights of investigators traveling to find lost kids. It means they reunite families free of charge. It means they help with fundraising events.

And, it means that (like many MCSC partners) they have their employees out in the field looking for missing children. WestJet employees are active users of the CodeSearch app:

[Codesearch] allows MCSC the ability, with the help of local law enforcement, to send out geo-targeted alerts to individuals in the area where a child has gone missing or is expected to be located. Along with notifications, CodeSearch participants can also provide local expertise and resources.

Since abductors are likely to come to airports after taking a child, this kind of front line action is a big deal. They even had a month long campaign in 2011 called Give hope. Take action. where they “invited guests to write messages of hope to families of missing children.” Gold star, WestJet, gold star.

4) WestJet has a partnership with Disney Vacations. That means they have a freakin’ Mickey Mouse plane. Yeah.

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Just last week, WestJet released its new Disney plane, which features a handpainted Mickey Mouse on either side.

As an Ottawa tour guide, my bosses constantly reference Disney Vacations for its f’amazing customer service and general attitude…so the fact they’re trusting the airline to deliver the magic of Disney is serious business. WestJet even had a Mickey Mouse themed unvieling for staff, which is about the coolest internal marketing event I’ve seen ever.


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Also, they serve Disney-shaped cookies on board, so you’re welcome.

5) WestJet provides free flights for sick kids and families in need.

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From donating flights to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, to providing the David Foster Foundation with transportation to offsite medical care, WestJet is there for sick families and kids.

To me, this is not just solid corporate philanthropy–it’s also knowing and understanding customer values.  In Canada, where we so value our universal healthcare, it’s amazing to see a company like this stepping in and doing their part to make sure that a sick kid never, ever means unecessary family expenses.

6) What, an airline with an environmental commitment? Really?

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Yep. Obviously, transportation and environmentalism are never going to be best friends, but WestJet is certainly doing what it can. Specifically:

  • They invest in fuel-efficient jet aircraft.
  • They invest in technology and procedures that enable us to maximize operating efficiency and safety.
  • They invest in infrastructure to mitigate the environmental footprint of their ground operations.
  • They work in good faith with government agencies and regulators to develop rules and policies that further drive our operating efficiency and our ability to grow sustainably.

If that sounds vague, check out the technlogy they’re rocking: a lithium polymer-powered baggage tug, blended winglets, and one of the continent’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets.  Their Corporate offices in Calgary are even designed with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in mind. If you want to fly green(er), this is probably your best bet.

7) They treat their employees right.

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As this Toronto Star article details, WestJet’s great customer treatment can be traced back to great employee treatment.  Some highlights?

  • They call their employees “Westjetters.” Their HR department is referred to as “People.” (You know who else talks to/about their workers that way? Google. And who doesn’t want to work for Google?)
  • Employees are also called “owners,” thanks to WestJet’s generous profit-sharing program. Over 85% of employees own shares in the company, and WestJet matches employee stock one for one.
  • Front liners are given the freedom and trust to go the extra mile (according to one employee: “If there’s a guest coming in on a flight, and I see that we have an earlier flight going through, I can use my empowerment to see if I can find them something earlier.”)

Also…I mentioned the Mickey Mouse plane launch party, right? #swag

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So, yeah. That viral video is pretty great. But consistently awesome corporate ethics are even better.

Looks like we could all learn a thing or two…from both Mr. Rogers and WestJet.

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Pick-Your-Path Lunching (is awesome).

Recently, I read a tweet claiming that there are more Subway sandwich shops than McDonalds(es?) in Canada.  I was surprised by this, but upon Googling it found that it was actually old news–Subway has been ahead for awhile.

Why not, right? The lunchtime Subway line on campus is rivaled only by coffee shops in the morning.  From where currently sit, I’m about a 10 minute walk from four (yes, FOUR) highly popular Subways. The reason I know this, of course, is because I frequent them. I frequent ALL of them.

The appeal is simple: The food is affordable. It’s quick.  It’s addictingly good. It’s a lot less guilt-inducing than other fast food options. Most importantly, though, it’s highly customizable. Companies in almost every sector have realized that, courtesy of the 21st century, people want and expect to pick their own path.  Heightened sense of individuality-cum-entitlement? Check .  Welcome to the iWorld, folks. iDig the iWorld (sorry, iWill stop writing like that now…), but us first world kids are undoubtedly spoiled by all this access to options.

Subway definitely knows what’s up: It’s a sandwich. It’s a GOOD sandwich.  Most of all, though, it’s YOUR good sandwich. Subway, along with many other companies that are really rocking it right now (Freshii, for example), know how to appeal to our semi-newfound “BTCHPLZ, I DO WHAT I WAAANT” mindset.  Clearly, combining choice with cold cuts SELLS.

It sells to me, at least. Subway and Freshii are easily two of my favourite lunch spots. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to other businesses running from that same formula: serving a simple favourite with lots of options on top.  I’ll chat about specific places around downtown Ottawa, but almost every city will have at least one place specializing in…

Gourmet Grilled Cheese. Recently, a little place called Melt opened up at 399 Dalhousie. I went for the first time last week with my friend Rebecca, who shared my opinion that a sandwich shop dedicated to grilled cheese is “such a GREAT idea!”  She was very impressed with her “Herbivore” sandwich, while I was psyched to pack a grilled cheese full of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, and prosciutto. The taste was okay, though a bit too buttery (that one kinda comes with the territory) and slightly dry (“I’m thinking this needs some ketchup”).  All in all, though, this is such a cool concept that we will definitely be stopping back in.

Oh, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese? It’s TOTALLY a thing.  It’s huge in Toronto (because everything awesome is huge in Toronto), while Vancouver has a popular grilled cheese truck. “Say Cheese” in New York even hosts “cooking parties” for kids’ birthdays. Yup. Totally a thing.

Poutine. When I first moved to Ottawa, Smoke’s Poutinerie literally became something to write home about.  A place open until 3 am that puts onions/mushrooms/bacon/sausage on a poutine? Sold. Game over. Cue my first year of University–and, of course, the first meal I presented to any out-of-town visitors when they came to the capital.

Smoke’s Poutinerie has since exploded across the country, so I can no longer claim it as a reason people should really (really…REALLY) come visit Ottawa. I never actually could–Smoke’s started in Toronto,  a city which now boasts a monstrous SIX locations. There’s probably a location in your city, too, so I suggest you go. Now.  My favourite dish so far is the “Nacho Grande”; Chili and guacamole make for one hell of a poutine.

Burgers. Okay, we all know this one. Harvey’s, right? Personalizing burgers is their game. And I agree with that, I do. I don’t seek to de-throne the fast food joint responsible for any and all bacon-covered veggie burger cravings (if you haven’t done this, you really should. Both the burger and the irony are delicious).  I do, however, wish to point out that there are some other major players taking burgers and their toppings to another level.

Enter the “gourmet burger bistro.” When I first heard of The Works, I was immediately enthralled.  Initially, I was drawn to the restaurant atmosphere: picnic tables, drinks served from measuring cups, salt & pepper shakers crafted from lightbulbs…cool stuff everywhere.  The menu fits that “cool stuff” category too, with six patty choices and over 70 topping combinations.  Topping burgers with anything from peppercorns to pineapple to peanut butter, The Worked has earned itself a local reputation of being the pinnacle of everything a burger joint should be.  That might sound over-the-top, but I’ll stand by it. I’m a really big fan.

I should backtrack a bit, though: The Works’ reputation is no longer local.  It recently expanded to Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo, Kingston, London, Peterborough and Oakville…basically, yet ANOTHER of my Ottawa selling points is no longer exclusive to the city.  On the bright side, there are a lot of happy people in Waterloo.

Mexican Food. Sorry, I know I should be more specific here.  Basically, I’m talking about tacos, burritos, quesadillas…stuff that, strangely, Ottawa really knows how to serve up.  Specifically, stuff that Corazón De Maíz in the Byward Market really knows how to serve up.  The owners are known for providing some of the best customer service around, and they always offer GREAT suggestions as to what to put into a taco. Ultimately, in true pick-your-path fashion,  it’s still your call. My mind was blown when I was first offered pork as a meat option alongside the traditional beef/chicken deal, and it continues to be blown every time I go there.

I know other cities have great, independently-owned vendors in their market(s) serving up traditional fare, and I think it’s always worth supporting those companies (bonus points: the food is almost always fantastic).  As for Corazón De Maíz?  Well, this is one place that I can definitely claim for Ottawa…at least for now!

Pitas. One of my closest high school friends used to work at a small pita shop outside of Kitchener’s Stanley Park mall. I have more memories of Mega Pita than I do of even my own teenage work places.  So many late nights were spent waiting for my friend to get off work as I “helped,” mopping/sliding across the floors. I once rushed a cheap dollar store fan to her while she sweated in the non-air conditioned kitchen, and we shared it as I kept her company on a boring and blistering hot Sunday. I even called the Mega Pita owner “The Boss,” a title I denied even my own high school bosses. As far as I’m concerned, that guy is still “The Boss.”  He will always be.  He is ESPECIALLY the boss because  his business is the reason my friend can make a damned good pita. He is also the reason why I continue to frequent pita spots like Byward Market’s Pita Pit–that is, when I’m not at Subway.

How about you? What’s your favourite “I DO WHAT I WAAANT”-friendly spot? Anything I missed? I’m pretty sure I could live off those five foods for months (re: last summer. Sorry, mom.) but if any other central dishes are getting amped up, I would love to give it a shot!