Posted July 9, 2008 by Zak Patten
Southwest finally got its passport. Though the low-cost carrier cannot be accused of being a total homebody—its first non-Texas flight was almost 30 years ago—the airline has never flown abroad. Well, baby’s all grown up and ready to explore the wide world of international travel. And what does every first-time traveler appreciate more than a road buddy?
Enter WestJet, the Louise to Southwest’s Thelma, (if the 1991 movie were set in Canada and starred airlines rather than women). The two airlines will be codesharing by late 2009, according to an announcement yesterday. WestJet is a Canadian carrier that flies not just across its huge home country, but also gets down to Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, and a few other sunny destinations likely to interest Albertans in their parkas come late February.
Which brings up what will be the central challenge for this deal: acclimatization. Yes, it ain’t easy going from one temperature extreme to another, as those on previous Calgary-Orlando flights can surely attest. WestJetters may be used to bundling up to go to the airport, only to strip off most of their layers upon arrival in more southerly climes. The problem is, the typical Southwest passenger just doesn’t know how to steer out of a skid, let alone how to dress for 40-below wind chills. “But what about Buffalo and Manchester?” you ask. "Aren’t they Southwest cities with real winters?" To which I reply, “If you think Buffalo has real winters, try licking a Saskatoon stop sign in January!” Yeah, that’s what I thought.
So the key to success here is going to be how the codeshare flights are heated and cooled. Heading north, it’ll be necessary to pack extra clothing such as scarves and fleece pants, because the planes are going to be cranking the A/C every hundred miles or so in the attempt to get you used to the cold. By the time you deplane, you should look like a snowplow driver from Duluth. For trips flying south, the aircraft will need to install heated seats (these are pretty nice) and serve plenty of hot chocolate to bring passenger temps up to an appropriately tropical level. A palm tree or two wouldn’t hurt, but that might be overkill.
The bottom line is this is a risky venture. I have no doubt the tie-up between the two airlines is a good fit—they’re both low-cost carriers that have little route overlap. But you know they say the test of a relationship is how well people travel together. Maybe that’s true for airlines as well.
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