Calgary

From 3 used planes and 5 destinations to global player: the WestJet timeline

WestJet started with five destinations, 220 employees and three used planes. Now, as its sale to Onex is announced, the Calgary-based company has about 14,000 employees, more than 180 planes, and it flies to 114 destinations directly and about 130 more through connections with airline partners.

Small carrier started in 1996 with 220 employees. Now it's being bought for $5B

WestJet was launched in 1996 with the promise of cheap fares and no frills. (CBC)

WestJet started with five destinations, 220 employees and three used planes.

Now, with its planned sale to private equity firm Onex announced, the Calgary-based airline has about 14,000 employees, more than 180 planes, and it flies to 114 destinations directly and about 130 more through connections with airline partners.

As news broke Monday that Toronto-based Onex wants to buy WestJet in an all-cash transaction of $3.5 billion (worth about $5 billion including debt), it was just the latest step in the airline's growth.

The airline started small and has steadily grown and grown and grown. Here's a look at some key milestones and speed bumps along the way:

1996

WestJet launches as a no-frills, discount carrier on Feb. 29, 1996, with flights to Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Kelowna and Winnipeg. It had three used planes and about 220 employees. 

Not long after, it was ordered to cease operations due to a dispute over maintenance records. It survived the grounding and was back in the air after 17 days. 

It added more destinations in Western Canada in its first year. 

1999

The airline goes public, with its stock issued at $10 a share. 

2000

Expansion outside of its traditional Western Canada territory begins, with flights to the East and a new eastern hub in Hamilton. 

2004

Flights to the United States begin. 

2006

The first destination outside of Canada and the United States is the Bahamas. The airline launches WestJet Vacations to sell travel packages. 

The air wars begin as WestJet begins flying later in the month. The story originally aired on February 5, 1996. 1:44

2013

Encore, the company's regional propeller-plane carrier, launches to serve smaller markets. 

2014

The first WestJet transatlantic flight to Dublin. 

2016 

London, England, is added to the lineup of routes. 

2017

WestJet's pilots vote to unionize and join the Air Line Pilots Association.

2018

WestJet starts flying to Paris, introduces business class and launches its ultra-low-cost carrier, Swoop. 

Cabin crews vote to unionize, while pilots threaten to strike in the midst of contract negotiations. 

2019

Onex offers to buy WestJet for $5 billion, dependent on several factors, including shareholder approval. Stock shoots from $18.52 to $30 after announcement on May 13, 2019. 

As of spring 2019, WestJet operates 85 planes, according to Plane Spotters. It flies to 114 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe (or a full 240 destinations, if connectivity with airline partners is included). Total employees number around 14,000.