WestJet Customer Experience

Westjet: Guest Blog from @shaezg

There was a time (harkened back to on television’s Mad Men) when air travel was a luxury; when sailing through the clouds was more than just a way of getting somewhere, but was an adventure. Nowadays, there’s little romanticism left in air travel, especially for those of us confined to coach after being forced to remove our shoes and belts at the checkpoints. Sometimes it seems as if there’s no way to add any more stress to air travel – until you have to fly home for a funeral.

After receiving a phone call informing me that my grandfather would be passing away imminently, I immediately began preparations for my trip home. My father suggested that I talk to WestJet, confident that they would be the most flexible and cooperative. After all – as their commercials and advertising boasts – owners care.

Until that time, my only experience with bereavement fares was an episode of Seinfeld that dealt with the issue. I was still waiting for details from my family, but decided to call WestJet to inquire about how it all worked.

When I called WestJet and explained the situation, the first thing that struck me was that the agent on the other end of the phone seemed completely unfazed by the revelation that my grandfather was about to pass. No condolences, no “sorry to hear that,” nothing… When I asked about flying back, she cheerfully explained that until he actually passed away, there were no discounts available. I inquired about purchasing a full-priced ticket (starting at over $300-dollars before taxes and fees) and having it retroactively reduced after the funeral, but was told that was not an option. When she finished the call by asking if there was anything else she could do for me, I felt my blood pressure spike.

Feeling very let down and frustrated, I sent off an email to WestJet detailing my experiences. In a matter of minutes, I had received a response from the company, as well as receiving a response from a company representative who had read about my experiences on Twitter. They apologized, offered their condolences and offered me the same retroactive reimbursement that I had proposed to the agent over the phone.

Their representative explained that bereavement fares are not priced as a percentage of regular fares, but are priced individually per route – in this case, a maximum of $299-dollars plus taxes and fees each way. Having flown home only a week prior on a sale fare of half the price, I was unimpressed with the policy, but it’s no different on Air Canada. When the agent charged me $329-dollars each way, I spoke with the same agent and he refunded me the difference between what he had quoted and what I had paid.


2nd Date – I’ll Give You A Second Chance: The hassle I went through was the last thing I wanted while dealing with the passing of a loved one. I’m still not a fan of the policy, however it’s no different than Air Canada’s, and WestJet’s willingness to stand behind their word and eliminate any memories of a bad customer service experience speaks volumes. Being offered a $100-dollar travel voucher after I returned home – while a small gesture – was a welcomed surprise and will ensure that WestJet is the first airline I turn to in the future, no matter the purpose of my flights. (find @shaezg on Twitter and his blog, Shaecation)

Service Rating System:

Friend Zone – I just don’t like you in “that way.”
Booty Call – If I don’t have anything else better going on, I’ll stop by.
2nd Date – I’ll give you a second chance.
Going steady – This could be the beginning of something major.

THE UpSOLD! (courtesy of @trevorturnball)
As an extension of Shae’s story, I thought I’d include another Westjet experience a fellow Twitterer pointed me to.

My Westjet Experience (his not mine)

This week, I’m letting other people do the talking for me. It’s not lazy, I just know how to delegate…and other people have had different experience than me so they’d like to be heard too.

How good is your business’s customer service? You think you know but truthfully, your opinion doesn’t matter much. It’s your customers that rate you. And rate they do.

“MSN Money asked Zogby International to conduct an online national survey in which 3,012 randomly chosen respondents rated customer service at 150 companies from 15 industries.”

Here’s the article and lists. I just want to say, “do better.”


  • Excellent story and post. What strikes me about your story is the same thing I work actively to fix in many of my customers’ call centers — empowerment at the front line!

    If those reading your email could a)Show you basic consideration for the impending passing of your grandfather b)Offer you a retroactive reimbursement.

    I do not buy the idea that frontline staff can’t handle it. There are many well known companies who are succeeding at it and profits.

    Customers want personal connection not scripted procedural sounding answers. Here’s a post about Continental ExpressJet with just such an example — I welcome your comments on it.

    Thanks for your post. I will RT on Twitter.
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

    • I would say the additional problem is that customers already have it in their head that they are talking to someone with little to no power. I know myself when I call with an issue and get even the slightest repeated (canned) response or wavering on assistance, I ask for a manager.
      Call centres are the face/voice of the company. It isn’t “Mary” or “Steve” that can’t solve my problem, it’s Westjet or BestBuy.

  • Kate Nasser’s comments about ‘front-line empowerment’ are bang-on.

    The best example of this I’ve ever come across is Nordstrom’s ‘Employee Manual’. It’s printed on a recipe card, and is 75 words long:
    Welcome to Nordstrom

    We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

    Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

    Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

    The stories about Nordstrom’s customer service efforts is legendary: accepting car tires on return in Alaska (the former tenant of the building was an auto shop. Nordstrom sells high-end clothing. When a customer brought back tires he bought from the former tenant, Nordstrom decided not to fight, and just gave the guy his $300 bucks back.)

    another story was about a woman came shopping at Nordstrom’s for pants; they didn’t have her size. But the clerk knew that the Macy’s across the street had the same brand (but at a higher price), so he went over, bought the pants, and sold them to the woman for the Nordstrom price.

    • Great example of empowered customer service Stephen. Now here’s my question…What is stopping other companies from adopting such a tactic? What are the obstacles? Fear? Money?

  • Many thanks Stephen for your comment and also for sharing Nordstrom’s Employee manual. Love it — a recipe card!


  • To answer your question (what stops other companies from doing it) — Desire to be safe. People make decisions and for a leader to do something as radical as Nordstrom’s did, s/he risks the current position and future reputation. The old saying is “People initiate change when the fear/risk of changing is LESS than the fear/risk of staying the same.”


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