While WestJet has been operating long-haul flights from Calgary to Europe for quite some time now, in May 2023, they launched their first Asian destination – Tokyo. I had a chance to fly on the flight from Tokyo to Calgary a week after the launch as part of my trip to Yellowknife.
Continue reading to see what the long-haul economy class onboard a WestJet 787 was like.
Booking the Flight & Online Check-in
I booked this flight directly on WestJet’s website a bit less than three months before departure. The flight was part of a ticket from Tokyo Narita to Yellowknife which cost 514 USD. While the fare type that I booked included free checked baggage allowance, the same fare type would not have included it if I was taking a flight from one of WestJet’s European destinations.
Right after booking, it was possible to bid for an upgrade to premium economy or business class. While I did bid for an upgrade on the shorter flight from Calgary to Yellowknife, I skipped doing so on this flight due to the high cost. While checking in online 24 hours before my flight I was offered an upgrade to business class for a fixed amount of about 900 USD.
Online check-in itself was smooth and I kept my auto-assigned right-hand side window seat 35K. Once checked in, I was easily able to download my boarding pass into Apple Wallet using the WestJet app.
Check-in, Lounges & Boarding at Narita Airport
Getting to the airport was a bit more complicated than usual since the train that I usually take wasn’t running due to an accident and so I had to take an alternative route. I wasn’t too stressed, though, since I got a notification from WestJet earlier in the day that my flight was delayed from 6:15PM to 7:29PM.
For some reason, during its first couple weeks of operation, the flight was consistently delayed by more than an hour.
When I got to Narita Airport Terminal 1 just before 4:45PM, I confirmed which counters WestJet was using – it was “F” counters – and went straight there. Four counters were staffed – two priority counters, one regular economy class counter, and one baggage drop-off counter.
I did not check my bag in but I still stopped by the baggage drop-off counter to get printed boarding passes. While doing so, the kind check-in agent apologized for the delay and informed me about the new expected boarding time.
Then, after checking some of the Pokemon-themed decorations that were recently added inside the terminal, I headed airside. Both security with just one person ahead of me and immigration using one of the automated gates were about as smooth as it gets.
Airside, I visited two more Priority Pass lounges – Korean Air’s KAL Lounge and ANA Lounge. I spent the most time in the ANA Lounge since it’s the best of the three and was also near my departure gate.
Between my visits to the Korean Air and ANA Lounges, I stopped by gate 26 – my departure gate – to get a photo of the WestJet 787 arriving from Calgary. It landed with more than an hour-long delay at 5:25PM and parked at the gate a few minutes later in a beautiful evening light.
I got to the gate for the second time around 6:25PM – 15 minutes before the expected 6:40PM boarding time. By that time, there were quite a few people in the waiting area. There seemed to be quite a few WestJet employees (presumably) traveling non-rev too.
With more time being required to get the aircraft ready than expected, boarding was delayed further and finally started at 6:54PM with Zone 1 which included those traveling in business class and premium economy, as well as WestJet frequent flyer status holders. Zone 2, which I was in, started boarding just a couple of minutes later.
WestJet 787 Economy Class Cabin & Seat
My flight was operated by aircraft registered C-GKKN, one of WestJet’s seven 787s (all “-9s”). The aircraft, like all other WestJet 787s, was equipped with 320 seats:
- 16 reverse herringbone business class seats in a 1-2-1 layout
- 28 premium economy class seats in a 2-3-2 layout
- 276 economy class seats in a 3-3-3 layout
What caught my attention immediately after boarding was the cabin’s design. From the dark blue mood lighting to the finishing touches on the bulkhead walls, it looked elegant.
More practically, the seat was a standard economy class seat with average legroom (advertised as 31 inches).
The headrest was fully adjustable – it moved up and down and had folding wings. The fairly small tray table could be folded in half. The seatback in front was equipped with a good size and resolution personal screen under which was a USB-A charging port. There was also a coat hook. Under the seat, there was a power outlet. More specifically, there were two power outlets per row of three seats.
There were no individual air vents.
Departure from Tokyo Onboard WestJet Flight 81
Upon boarding, blankets and pillows were ready on the seats.
The blankets were wrapped in plastic. Neither the blanket nor the pillow was anything to write home about – they were as close to what one would expect in average long-haul economy class as it gets.
By the time boarding was completed just past 7:30PM, most of the seats were taken and the overhead bins were packed. Luckily, the middle seat between me and my neighbor remained empty.
A few minutes after boarding was completed, the purser welcomed everyone onboard and introduced the crew. She also mentioned our expected flight time of 8 hours 42 minutes and our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet. I was surprised to hear that in addition to there being English- and French-speaking flight attendants, there were also Spanish and Tagalog speakers working on the flight.
After the announcement, a cute Disney-like (I wonder if the choice of style has anything to do with WestJet’s partnership with Disney) animated safety video was played.
We were finally pushed back at 7:46PM – one and a half hour behind schedule – and took off from runway 34L at 8:01PM.
WestJet Long-Haul Economy Class Dinner
Seatbelt signs were switched off ten minutes after take-off. After that, earphones were distributed, and about 15 minutes after the signs were switched off, the meal service started. It took another 20 minutes or so for the cart to reach my row.
At that point, I was efficiently (maybe a bit too efficiently?) asked “you in the window seat, beverage?” The choices included orange juice, apple juices, Coke, Diet Coke, ginger ale, and red and white wines. I got a cup of ginger ale. For snack, I opted for the salty option – pretzels. The other option was cookies.
While I appreciated the pre-meal snack, considering that it was just an 8.5-hour overnight flight, it also unnecessarily dragged out the entire service. The trash was collected about 25 minutes after the snack was served and from there it took another half an hour for the actual meal service to start.
There were two options for the main – vegetarian pasta and beef. I opted for the former which lacked flavor. That said, at least it wasn’t overcooked. The underwhelming main was served with a nice fresh salad, chocolate mousse, and a packaged bread roll. There was also cupped water on the tray.
The spaghetti was packed in a small cardboard box. That would not have been an issue in itself. However, combined with the wooden utensils that were so useless I wouldn’t worry about giving it to my five-month-old baby, it made for a terrible eating experience.
All of this was done in the name of sustainability – as the utensils packaging said, “zero plastic waste.” …except for the plastic wrap that the bread came in, the plastic cup that the cupped water came in, the plastic cup that the ginger ale was poured in, the plastic box that the salad came in, and the plastic cup that the mousse came in.
I would have given up any of the other items that came in plastic for plastic, metal, or even wooden but better utensils.
Another drink run – this time including hot drinks – was done about twenty minutes after the meal was served. This time I opted for a cup of orange juice. Hot drinks were served in McCafe cups.
Around 9:30PM – one and a half hours after take-off – the tiny trays were collected.
WestJet 787 In-Flight Entertainment System
As mentioned earlier, the seat was equipped with a large, high-resolution screen, and basic earphones were distributed shortly after take-off. The touchscreen was responsive which was good given that there was no handheld controller (luckily, unresponsive touchscreens on planes are more of a rarity nowadays than they used to be not long ago).
In terms of content, there was a selection of over 150 movies including older classics as well as new releases. Interestingly, there was an entire “Tying the Knot” category dedicated to wedding-themed movies – something I haven’t seen before.
There was a good selection of TV shows too, each with a few episodes. Having two different ice hockey-themed shows on the IFE system was a good reminder that I was onboard a Canadian airline. Personally, I was happy to see an episode of Dragon’s Den being available too.
Additionally, there was some music (only in the form of 180 minutes or so long compilations, though) and a bit less than 20 games. There was a section with text news (that loaded properly) and weather (that did not load at all) too.
One thing I liked was that the flight information section included articles about the destination – Calgary in this case.
The IFE system did not, of course, lack an in-flight map. The map could be moved, zoomed in, etc. using the touchscreen. There were no exterior cameras.
WestJet 787 Onboard Wi-Fi
The WestJet 787 I was flying on, like all the other ones in the fleet, was equipped with onboard wi-fi. It did not only provide access to the internet but also allowed for streaming of the same movies and TV shows that were available on the IFE system. A simple in-flight map could be accessed via the wi-fi portal too.
One thing I appreciated was that after take-off, the cabin crew announced that those having trouble connecting should go to westjetconnect.com. I wish all airlines would do that as it’s not uncommon for the log-in screen not to pop-up automatically.
As for the internet, there were two reasonably priced plans:
- Inflight Chat (2.99 CAD) – This plan offered text-only chatting on mobile devices using the iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat apps for the duration of the flight
- Full Flight (21.99 CAD) – This plan offered full internet access for the duration of the flight
I opted for the messaging-only plan which worked without any issues and was more than worth it for the cheap price.
Cruising Onboard a WestJet 787-9
At some point early in the flight, I went to the lavatory. While waiting in line, though, one of the flight attendants approached me saying “Excuse me, you’re next, before you go, I need to clean the bathroom.” As such, I assume the lavatories were cleaned fairly frequently.
As for the lavatory itself, there were no bells and whistles, and hand soap was the only amenity available. That said, the lavatory walls featured the same nice pattern that the bulkhead walls did.
There were no amenity kits distributed during the flight.
While waiting for dinner to be served, I started watching Dumb and Dumber. Once the movie was over, I decided to sleep. I only managed to sleep for about two hours.
That was fine, though, as by the time I woke up, it was about 10AM in Calgary.
To minimize jetlag, I decided not to try to go back to sleep. Instead, I did some work, watched Dragon’s Den, and relaxed.
With just a few hours to go, we flew over Alaska and the northern part of Canada. While the views were amazing, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy them as the electric window shades were locked at a dark setting. That’s one of the reasons why I am not a fan of the electronically dimmed windows on the 787.
No drink or snack runs were done until the pre-landing meal service.
WestJet Long-Haul Economy Class Breakfast
The pre-landing meal – a breakfast served around noon Calgary time – was served about an hour and a half before landing.
There were no options. Instead, everyone was served scrambled eggs and a muffin on most likely the smallest airline meal tray I’ve seen (excluding meals not served on trays like on my Asiana flight from Fukuoka to Seoul). The meal came with the same set of utensils as the previous one – at least the scrambled eggs were easier to eat than the spaghetti.
While the eggs tasted fine, they lacked texture. The potatoes that were served with the eggs were too mushy.
The drink service followed about 20 minutes after the meal was served. I got a cup of orange juice. The passenger sitting behind me asked for apple juice but it wasn’t available anymore.
Arrival at Calgary Airport
At 1:06PM Calgary time, the captain made a pre-landing announcement mentioning we would be landing at 1:30PM local time and arriving at our gate five minutes later. After that, a video explaining the locations of emergency exits was played – it seems that it is a procedure required by the Canadian law.
Around the same time, the window “shades” were finally unlocked.
We landed on runway 35L at 1:30PM. At that point, an announcement was made that medical services would be coming onboard and that everyone should stay in their seat until further announcement (there was a medical emergency during the flight).
We parked at our arrival gate at 1:38PM – more than an hour behind schedule. From there it took another ten or fifteen minutes for the medical services to get their job done and deboarding to start.
WestJet 787 Economy Class Summary
Overall, WestJet long-haul economy class was perfectly fine.
I liked the cabin design, the in-flight entertainment system was excellent, and the crew was nice overall (although in some cases the way passengers were addressed seemed a bit too “rough” to me). On the other hand, the meals were subpar and the service flow at the beginning of the flight could have been better.
All that said, I would not hesitate to fly with the airline on a long-haul flight again if the price and schedules were better than other options.