Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: June 2018

A day at the WestJet Campus in Calgary

Being a long-standing aviation nut it was with excitement that I jumped at the chance to tour the WestJet Campus, the company head office building that forms one part of a sprawling complex adjacent to Calgary International Airport.

Built at a cost of $100 million and opened in May 2009, the six-storey Campus building stands next to WestJet’s Hangar and was built to consolidate the growing airline’s staff who were working out of seven separate buildings spread around the Calgary’s northeast corner. The term “campus” was chosen instead of the more formal “headquarters” or “head office” as it’s meant to convey the educational aspect of the training staff receive as well as being a place where work is done and decisions made.  Much like in the tech sector where Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple who built their campuses to foster innovation as well as consolidate their corporate and operations so too has WestJet brought all of its various departments into one place.

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The lobby features  the familiar two-tone WestJet which is being transitioned out in favor of a single colour as is shown on the model of the new Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” which the airline will add to its fleet in early 2019.

The introduction of Boeing’s 787-9 Dreamliner, a state-of-the-art aircraft, is the dawn of a new era for WestJet and the next step in our transformation to a global network airline,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in this May 2018 press release. “The updated livery is modern and dynamic while the interior is world-class, distinctly Canadian and uniquely WestJet. Both reflect WestJet’s transition from a regional airline in 1996 to a new era of connecting Canada with the world and bringing the world to Canada.

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WestJet has firm orders of 10 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and options for another 10, all of which will feature the new livery, logo and interior.

After a light lunch and welcome from WestJet staff our group was off to tour the hangar and get an up close view of the airline’s newest aircraft, the Boeing 737-MAX.

Parked in the huge hangar is WestJet’s first Boeing 737-MAX which it took delivery of in September, 2017 and for those interested in seeing how this aircraft was built there’s an excellent video here. WestJet has 50 of this next generation 737 model scheduled for delivery by 2022.

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photo by author

Our WestJet tour guide Dan noted that the aircraft was being used as a spare ready to be thrown into action anywhere in WestJet’s wide world should it be needed.

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The chance to walk all around the aircraft and see it from a whole new perspective is a rare one afforded to few passengers and included peering into the cavernous baggage holds and CFM International LEAP-1B engines and seeing how the landing gear retracts into the fuselage.

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The aircraft is 14 per cent more fuel-efficient than current 737 Next-Generations and have a reduced operational noise footprint of up to 40 per cent through quiet-engine technology.

The tires last 250 cycles and then are inspected for wear or damage and are mostly flat save for a few grooves which are designed to channel water out. The tires are filled with nitrogen as it expands less than oxygen at extreme temperatures and stays inflated longer leading to less tire wear.

photo by author

photo by author

WestJet’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft feature a single cabin with 174 seats with a seating configuration consisting of three rows of Plus in addition to 11 more rows with a seat pitch of 34 inches plus regular economy seating with a 31 inch seat pitch. New tech features include Boeing’s new Sky Interior which has features such as customizable LED lighting, or “mood” lighting, and new speakers to improve sound and clarity of onboard announcements.

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photo by author

photo by author

Like many aircraft cockpits I’ve visited on the ground or in the air the 737-MAX cockpit is snug with almost every square inch covered with dials or knobs. 

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In a separate building adjacent to the hangar WestJet pilots are put through their paces with time in one of three $15 million CAE flight simulators with ultra realistic airport layouts and variable conditions.

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The concrete pad the flight simulator sits on is isolated from the rest of the building so its movements aren’t felt by everyone in the facility.

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There multi-storey atrium in the WestJet Campus is flooded with natural lighting which was by design to reduce lighting costs. Other intiatives such as collecting rainwater in giant cisterns to water the surrounding landscaping helped the facility in 2011 earn gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

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The sixth and top floor is occupied by the real power brokers, the accountants, while the airline top brass is ensconced on the fifth floor.

Among the creature comforts for all airline staff is a WestJet Store, a  fully-equipped fitness facility that’s open 24/7 and a Starbucks reputed to be among the chain’s busiest.

photo by author

photo by author

Along the Campus walls are affirmations aimed at fostering what’s become known as the WestJet culture which empowers staff to make decisions in the best interest of their customer and to reward them with profit-sharing programs. That bottom-up management approach was in stark contrast to other airlines such as Air Canada which used the more traditional top-down style and has proved very successful since WestJet’s founding in 1996 even in tough economic times. This success however has created a big enough conglomerate that the corporate culture will need to evolve with its increased global route network and growing unionization.  WestJet has always seemed to defy the naysayers and forecasters of doom so am inclined to believe its stakeholders can manage the new entity and balance their own interests with those of the flying public.

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As if a reminder of the direction WestJet is heading in the near future adjacent to the its existing hangar under construction is another giant hangar to house the incoming Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” although staff wouldn’t say which would arrive first, the hangar completion or the delivery of the first Dreamliner.

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Touring the WestJet Campus was a great way to go behind the scenes and learn even more about a company I’ve worked with virtually from its inception so I thank my hosts for their generous invitation and warm welcome.

Powwow at Edmonton International Airport

Dropping a friend off at Edmonton International Airport (EIA) I happened upon a Powwow and stuck around to enjoy the music and dancing.

The second annual Cultural Showcase Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day held at the airport was sponsored by EIA, the Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training Services Association (TCETSA), Enoch Cree Nation and the Metis Nation of Alberta and aimed to showcase traditional indigenous culture through dance, music and art. 

In cooperation with Indigenous organizations, the Government of Canada chose June 21, the summer solstice, for National Aboriginal Day, now known as National Indigenous Peoples Day, and the day was proclaimed in 1996 by then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc. 

In his opening remarks emcee Kevin Buffalo of the Enoch Cree Nation noted that when the airport opened in 1963 a teepee was featured on the site but that since then region’s indigenous peoples haven’t had much of a role in the airport until more recent years.

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Under a cloudless and brilliant blue sky the grand entry parade included chiefs and dancers from the Enoch Cree Nation, Sunchild First Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Kehewin Cree Nation, Cold Lake First Nation, and Metis Nation carrying the First Nations, Metis, Alberta and Canadian flags.

video by author

photo by author

A number of men’s, women’s and kid’s dances were held and it was noted that the intricate costumes with their heavy bead work weighed a few pounds which must have caused a few beads of sweat on a day with a forecast high of 29 Celsius and a heat warning from Environment Canada.

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The drummers pound out a rhythm and sing to encourage the dancers while emcee Kevin Buffalo narrates.

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An arts & crafts display was set-up and tribal chiefs hoped there would be a permanent place for indigenous art and handicrafts at EIA.

 

 

Hotel Review: The Nines, Portland

The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Portland  is one of the city’s newest luxury hotels reborn in a historic fifteen story 1909 masterpiece which served as the flagship store and headquarters for Meier & Frank, once heralded as the largest retailer west of the Mississippi.

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According to the hotel the name “The Nines” was created to honour the building’s roots as a beacon of “dressed to the nines” fashion but it also happens to occupy the top nine floors of this  building located in a prime location on Pioneer Courthouse Square, affectionately known as Portland’s “living room” which is home to some 300 annual events.

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The bottom five floors were home to a Macy’s until early 2017 and staff indicated they would be redeveloped into mixed-use retail and office space.

The hotel’s street level entrance is only a small bell desk and a bank of elevators as the lobby is on the 8th floor.

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The lobby level is a bright, open atrium with the lead-in Superior room category having atrium views.

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The furniture mirrors the hotel decor with its hint of quirkiness but isn’t a case of form over function as the chairs and couches offer travelers a comfortable spot to meet with friends, finish some work or await room assignment at the front desk a few steps away.

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photo by author

Having arrived at the hotel around Noon and requested an early check-in the front desk staff did their best to accommodate so I lounged in the Urban Farmer restaurant and bar while housekeepers worked to ready a room.

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photo by author

While my Starwood Preferred Guest two night award reservation was for a lead-in Superior Room the room I was assigned, 1108, is a Deluxe City View which offered a side view of Pioneer Courthouse Square which was bedecked with a floral display as part of its  annual”Festival of Flowers”.

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The 9-foot ceilings and large picture windows help make the room seem larger than it is while the Tiffany-blue sofa lounger – which had to be 6.5-feet in length – adds splash of colour in an otherwise neutral palette.  The king bed features a tufted white headboard and luxury Egyptian linens which help make for a very restful sleep. The heavy drapes also do a very good job of darkening the room for those like me who prefer it that way.

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The luggage rack under the 50 inch flat screen TV console is a little unusual but for a short stay wasn’t an inconvenience. Free basic Wi-Fi is included and the desk has power plugs in the faux  drawers so a good place to power up the laptop or recharge guest devices.

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The sophisticated room design continues in the large bathroom with a corner vanity and stainless steel undermount sink.  Water pressure is good but not powerful. The Nines features London’s Gilchrist & Soames BeeKind Collection of luxury toiletries which use natural ingredients that are gentler on the environment and whose net proceeds go to support honey bee sustainable pollination research at the University of California.

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The marble shower stall has wall-mounted shampoo, conditioner and shower gel dispensers in an eco-friendly effort to cut down on  the plastics used for individual containers. The shower head is good but not quite the high-end rainfall shower head expected at a five-star hotel.

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The standard mini-fridge with overpriced sodas, water , snacks and little booze bottles can be found in the room but the quirk with this model is that removing an item in the little black holders for more than 20 seconds will result in an automatic charge of that item to your room account.

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There is a little card on the shelf above the mini-bar advising guests of the quick-draw robo-fridge and noting that guests wishing a mini-fridge for personal use may have one provided for a one-time USD$20 fee.

The 15th floor Departure restaurant offers pan-Asian cuisine served in an indoor restaurant as well as in an outdoor panoramic deck with Portland city view.

Portland on a nice evening by Amber Case is licensed under CC BY- C 2.0 

A huge fitness center with a big selection of both cardio and free weight training is available to guests 24/7 but note the hotel has no pool.

Getting to The Nines from Portland International Airport (PDX) is very easy and inexpensive as the light rail MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) Red Line runs from a station adjacent to the terminal into the downtown core stopping across Pioneer Courthouse Square for only $2.50 for a 2.5-hour limit. The ride to & from the airport is roughly 35-minutes and trains run at least every 15-minutes all day, every day.

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The Nines lives up to its billing as a member of the Starwood/Marriott Luxury Collection as it blends a contemporary style and sophistication with its heritage building in an uber central downtown location within walking distance of most city sights.  Rates for the least expensive Superior room category will average USD$300 per room per night plus taxes and it’s worth confirming reservations in advance while room rates are usually at their lowest.

 

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Flight Review: Delta Airlines Embraer E175

Delta Airlines non-stop regional jet service to Seattle from Edmonton has been up and running since December, 2015 and by all accounts has been a success so after a few flights on the route thought I would share some thoughts on the Brazilian-built Embraer 175 playing the route.

The route and other in the Pacific Northwest is operated under the Delta brand by regional carrier Compass Airlines  who has a fleet of 36 Embraer 175 aircraft each with 76-seats which are divided into 12 First Class seats, 20 Comfort + and 44 in Economy.

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The seat width varies by less than 2-inches between First Class,  Comfort + and Economy seats but the legroom increases from 37-inches in First to 34-inches in Comfort + down to 31-inches in regular Economy seats. I found my window Economy seat offered just enough legroom for this average 5- foot 10-inch traveler on a short 90-minute flight.

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Note that regular Economy seats don’t include in-seat power outlets as  those are found in Comfort + and First Class only.

I liked that the center armrest could be lifted to allow a little extra room between the seats in the Delta aircraft configuration with two seats on either side of the center aisle except in First Class where there is a single row on one side and two seats on the other.  I find the in-seat shoulder room, headroom and bin space on this Embraer much better than other regional jets such as Bombardier’s CRJ.

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Row 14 is listed as a window seat but is actually between two windows so not ideal if you like to take in the Pacific Northwest views.

Travelling with carry-on only and not wanting to have my bag gate checked I’d opted to buy Delta’s Priority Boarding as part of its Trip Extras on the outbound flights Edmonton – Seattle and Seattle – Portland to allow boarding earlier in Zone 1 instead of Zone 3 at a cost of USD$15 per segment. This perk was handy but it’s value will of course depend upon how full or empty the flight actually is, an often unknown quantity.

One unexpected benefit revealed itself after my Edmonton – Seattle flight was delayed 30-minutes putting my 60-minute Seattle connection in jeopardy however a flight attendant assured those who inquired about missing their connections that they were arriving into gate 7A and that they should check the ‘connections board’ in the gate area which show the gate numbers of onward connections. After disembarking I consulted said ‘connections board’ and after noting my new gate number dutifully set out to find it only to realize a split second later that it was the same gate I’d just arrive into and I didn’t have to rush anywhere as it was the same aircraft I’d just walked off that with a new crew would continue onto Portland. In fact had aviation regulations allowed I could’ve stayed in the same seat, 14A, as I had the same seat assigned for both flights. This is one of the few times in my flying memory where I encountered this same-plane service on a true connection.

There’s an excellent aircraft tour with a good look at the roomier Delta Economy Comfort seats in this video.

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