Airline Touts Culture of Care

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By Christine Cusatis

At Calgary-based WestJet, employees are stockholders, common sense trumps policy and Elvis impersonators promote flights to Las Vegas.

WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky

In the keynote address for the 2012 Marketing and Communications Conference in Sacramento on Monday, Gregg Saretsky, CEO, WestJet, said the airline’s unique culture directly contributes to its success.

“It’s a story about being something other than just another airline,” he said.

To illustrate this culture, Saretsky showed a video clip of the airline’s tongue-in-cheek April Fools commercial promoting child-free flights, which went viral earlier this year.

He said that WestJet’s approach empowers staff, termed “WestJetters,” to do the right thing for customers.

“We take care of our people,” he said.

WestJet employees are given financial ownership of the airline through an employee share purchase plan and twice-a-year profit sharing. Furthermore, employees are given a chance to share their opinions. They were included in the vote to launch a regional airline, and will determine its name through a contest.

As an indicator of its success, WestJet reported that first quarter net earnings were up 42 percent from 2011 and that plans are underway for a regional airline complete with Bombardier Q400 turboprops. In January, WestJet announced it won an auction for slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

The airline’s goal is to be one of the five most successful international airlines in the world by 2016.