From 3 used planes and 5 destinations to global player: the WestJet timeline
Small carrier started in 1996 with 220 employees. Now it's being bought for $5B
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:
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.
The airline goes public, with its stock issued at $10 a share.
Expansion outside of its traditional Western Canada territory begins, with flights to the East and a new eastern hub in Hamilton.
Flights to the United States begin.
The first destination outside of Canada and the United States is the Bahamas. The airline launches WestJet Vacations to sell travel packages.
Encore, the company's regional propeller-plane carrier, launches to serve smaller markets.
The first WestJet transatlantic flight to Dublin.
London, England, is added to the lineup of routes.
WestJet's pilots vote to unionize and join the Air Line Pilots Association.
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.
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.