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Ed Sims, president and chief executive officer of WestJet, with one of the airline’s new Boeing 737s

Ed Sims, president and chief executive officer of WestJet, with one of the airline’s new Boeing 737s. Wil Andruschak © Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © Postmedia Network Inc.

The airline business is a people-centred enterprise.

Helping people travel great distances for business, to be reunited with loved ones, or for life-changing adventures is at the heart of what a carrier does.

People come first. And yet it may not always seem that way.

“Sometimes in the airline industry, it’s easy to forget that airports and air travel can feel alienating and inhospitable,” says Ed Sims, president and chief executive officer of WestJet.

“That’s why at WestJet we always want to remind ourselves that there is a person — the guest — who likes to be greeted with eye contact, by his or her name, and with a smile.”

Sims says those little touches make a big difference. Passengers — who may be elated about a trip of a lifetime, or just plain travel weary — want to feel that they are more than cargo, moving from Point A to B.

“At WestJet our goal has always been to humanize travel.”

That’s not to say air travel is intrinsically an unappealing way to travel.

While discount fliers — something WestJet helped pioneer when it launched more than 20 years ago — have democratized air travel, flying by plane is not like “buying a bus ticket,” Sims notes.

“It still needs to have a degree of romance, glamour and escape.”

That’s why WestJet’s mission has remained steadfast since its launch in Calgary back in 1996.

“We strive to enrich the lives of everyone in WestJet’s world, and that means the 20 million guests who fly with us annually,” Sims says.

It is a concept that is “as relevant today as it was five, 10 or 20 years ago.”

Of course, times do change.

And so has WestJet.

The company that started with 200 employees in the mid-1990s has grown into a fully networked carrier with a workforce of more than 13,000. It provides budget travel through its new ultra-low cost carrier service, Swoop. WestJet will also offer a second-to-none overseas in-flight experience in the new year with its new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. 

The company that started with a handful of flights, carrying a couple of hundred passengers daily, now flies more than 70,000 people on more than 700 flights every day.

And it does so consistently well. Among the most respected and popular carriers, WestJet was recently lauded by TripAdvisor as one of the best airlines in North America.

A key ingredient for success is its Calgary roots.

“We’re an enterprising company,” Sims says.

Employees are empowered to do what is the right for customers. And as owners of the company, WestJetters have a stake in ensuring customers get their money’s worth, he adds.

“We think of ourselves as a company that always walks the talk.”

 This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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