Review: Westjet Airlines B737-6, Calgary – Varadero.


It’s not very easy to get from North America to Cuba. Many flights exist from Canada and there are occasionally flights available from the United States. Today’s flight had us departing from Western Canada’s Calgary International Airport on a non stop to the resort town of Varadero, Cuba. It would be a flight ending in undeveloped views on arrival, of a country yet to fully blossom.

This post is one chapter on our trip to the isolated country of Cuba. This trip was planned through Westjet Vacations. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Westjet Airlines B737-8, Calgary International Airport – Varadero Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport.

The Calgary International Terminal has been under construction for several years and was eventually opened in October 2016. The timing is a bit off as being an oil and gas town, the economy has recently taken a downturn with many lay offs. This has resulted in less disposable income and less demand for international travel.

Connecting to the Calgary International Concourse:

We disembarked our Westjet Airlines Abbotsford – Calgary connecting flight and after a few lefts and rights, we were at the international passageway that led us to the new Calgary International Terminal concourse.

It wouldn’t be a Canadian airport without an owl or a beaver model.
Bright Spaces in the Calgary International Terminal
Bright Windows Allows Lots of Daylight
Host Desks

The space is bright and airy and featured the usual shops, a Starbucks, a Subway and an A&W restaurant. More interesting was that there was also a Lammle’s Western Wear shop. Lammle’s Western Wear is a franchised Albertan staple that features authentic Western cowboy wear. Their cowboy hats can go over $300 CAD ($240 USD) depending on the styles. This is a hefty sum by Canadian standards but perhaps not so much for an energy town.

Lammle’s Western Wear

All the flights leaving this morning were headed to sunny warm destinations. The flight departure board was full of Mexican and Caribbean locations.

Calgary International Airport Departures Board

The airport authority offered “Pet Me” dogs. Several volunteers were wandering around the terminal with leashed animals for the entertainment of kids and other stressed travelers. The support dog isn’t too out of control yet here in Canada.

Emotional Support Relaxing Dogs

We didn’t have any lounge access today, although we considered visiting the new Calgary International Airport Aspire Lounge (run by Swissport). The Airport Aspire Lounge access was $40.60 CAD ($30.75 USD) and can also be accessed through Priority Pass lounge. We didn’t visit but we confirmed that Air Canada is also using this location as a lounge for their international services as there is no Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in the International Terminal (or the US transborder terminal for that matter). The sole Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Calgary is located in the domestic terminal.

Instead, we ended up a Chili’s restaurant for a full breakfast. It was reasonable priced and got us the energy that we needed. After breakfast, MrsWT73 felt like some wine so we went next door to the smallish Vin Room. The Vin Room offered an Enomatic wine system that kept the wines fresh.

Vin Room at Calgary International Airport: International Concourse
Vin Room
Attractive Tasting Bar inside Vin Room

There were over 50 wines available by the glass so we settled into a lounge chair and enjoyed the last of our 3 hour connection. I had a glass of Schild Unwooded Chardonnay from Australia, while MrsWT73 had a glass of bubbles rose. There was definitely something for everyone to choose from in the world of wine.

Plenty of Selection
Schild Unwooded Chardonnay and a Canadian Passport

After a glass of wine, we wandered over to the gate area from the wine bar. The airport hasn’t installed much seating around the gate areas and as a result, there is a lot of crowding around the gates. I think it’s supposed to be a “call to gate” concept where you wait in the main area until the gate is posted; although it’s not officially set up that way and North Americans probably aren’t familiar with it unless they’ve happened to visit London Heathrow.

Wandering to the Gates
A lot of congested standing around while waiting for our flights
Economy Class
YYC-VRA (Calgary International Airport – Varadero Cuba)
WJ 2390
November 5, 2016
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800
Departure: 11:20 AM
Arrival: 6:45 PM

On Board Westjet Airlines:

We boarded our flight today. There were lots of people with carry on’s so we made sure we were near to the front of Zone 4 when it came time to board our zone.

Boarding our Westjet B737-8 bound for Cuba

On board, we were on the newer Westjet Boeing 737-800 today. The plane featured the usual 3-3 configuration in economy class with slim line seats. As we boarded, we found our way to row 8. I had paid $20 per person for seat assignments in advance for this international segment to avoid getting separated and stuck in the middle seats on the longer flight on way down. The general seat map opened at the 24 hour mark with free seats made available.

Westjet B737-8 Economy Class
Seatbacks offer no included entertainment

The seat backs offer no monitors or television screens. While this is likely a great move for the carrier resulting in lighter fuel costs, it can make for a bit of a boring flight for passengers who are with the carrier for longer flight legs.

Modernized Seats with Increased Leg Room
In Seat EmPower at Every Seat

Either the plane was in really rough condition, or they just hadn’t cleaned it that much. There were coffee stains on the table, discarded gum in the seat back pocket, and lots of hair and fingerprint stains on the window.

A Cabin in Slightly Rough Shape

Cabin Entertainment:

As we settled in, there was an announcement that there was no in flight entertainment unless you had the Westjet App downloaded. We quickly broke out the App Store and downloaded the 42MB app so we could have access to tv and movies.

The flight featured Westjet connect wi-fi. The wifi rates were $4.99 CAD for 30 minutes, a 3 hour pass for $8.99 and a flight pass for $13.99 CAD. The movies streamed well through the Westjet application and MrsWT73 was able to connect to work without any issues.

Getting Airborne from Calgary:

We had an easy departure out of Calgary today with a minimum of delays, despite the long taxi to the departing runway.

Push Back at YYC Calgary International Airport
Views of Calgary’s Suburbs on Climb to Altitude
Spotting Calgary’s Highway Interchanges

Food an Beverage: Buy on Board

A buy on board service was offered. We each had a gin and tonic. While we had snacks, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a breakfast earlier in the day.

A Tanqueray Gin and Tonic and a Canada Dry

After the buy on board service, the Cuba Immigration Tourist Cards were passed out. The Cuba Immigration Tourist Cards seem to be a bit challenging as the process is different everywhere you look. The guidebooks say to get them from the embassies in advance, but Canadian airlines seem to hand them out along with tour packages to Cuba. Tourist Cards are needed to enter the country but there wasn’t any specific reference to it on our booking. You can’t pick them up on arrival in Cuba so it’s important to get them organized in advance. We ended up confirming that we could would be getting the cards on the flight through a call to Westjet reservations by phone.

A Cuban Tourist Card and a Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba

The Second Service: Buy on Board

I watched a little movie Independence Day (circa 1995) on the Westjet App but gave up because there was no where to rest the iphone and who wants to watch anything on a small screen anyway. I took a little nap and woke up around the second service. The second service was another pass of the buy on board cart. They had run out of sandwiches, leaving only cheese plates and salads. Thankfully, we were pretty full from breakfast so we didn’t get stuck with whatever was left over.

Second Service nearing Varadero, Cuba

On the Approach to Cuba:

When it came time to start out descent, I had my eyes peeled to the window to get my first glimpse of Cuba. When we came over land, it was very green and undeveloped. It reminded me of coming into Yangon, Myanmar in the era when the military junta was running the country. There was a complete lack of roads and other industrialized features surrounded by greenery end to end.

View from the Wing: Sunset into Cuba
Arcing a Turn Over Green and Undeveloped Cuba

We landed without much fanfare or delay and saw our first view of the Varadero airport in a lovely communist color of red.

Arriving to a Functional Varadero International Airport in Cuba
Bright Red: Marking an Arrival at Juan Gomez Varadero International Airport
Baggage Claim

After getting stamped in at Cuban Immigration, we picked up our bags at baggage claim and made our way outside to chance some money into Cuban Convertibles. The US dollar is of limited use here in Cuba. It is recommended to bring Canadian dollars or Euros cash currency to exchange to the local currency. The Cuban Convertible is tied to the US dollar in terms of valuation so there were no surprises there.

Being Stamped into Cuba
An Outdoor Reception

After we changed money, we hopped on the bus marked by the representative and headed off to the Ocean Varadero El Patriarca. It was a pretty straight forward experience and they were easily set up to handle the transfer system.

The Arrivals Zone

My Thoughts on the Westjet Airlines International Service to Cuba:

The international service to Cuba was much like many others. Given that we were unusually flying in economy for this leg, I was pretty happy to have eaten before getting on the light. The buy on board wasn’t too substantial and they had run out by the time the second service came around. The in flight entertainment options were non existent unless you happened to own a large tablet or smart phone. Most interesting were the landscape views arriving to Varadero; the sights were barren and ripe for development.

If you’ve flown to Cuba, how did you get your Tourist Immigration Card ?

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