Review: Westjet Airlines B737-8, Varadero – Calgary.

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In the realm of the few airlines carriers that fly from North America to the island communist nation of Cuba, our flight back home was on the Canadian carrier Westjet Airlines. As an oddball flight from Western Canada to Cuba, the Westjet Airlines flight allowed us a simple one connection stop back home and saved us connecting to the Caribbean through Toronto or Montreal in Eastern Canada.


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, Varadero Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport – Calgary International Airport.


On the day of our departure, we had a last hour of morning sun on the beach at the Ocean Varadero El Patriarca. We went to check out for the bus at 11 AM, but it was late thirty minutes so MrsWT73 had the last of the all inclusive with some sparkling wine in the lobby while we were waiting.

There was a woman who was slightly intoxicated already who was bossing the Cuban’s around; asking for additional drinks and telling the staff that if they brought us a round of drinks, that we would tip them. I later saw her at the Varadero International Airport check in counter arguing with a check in agent when they were given a non Plus seat assignment. We had a 30 minute bus ride up to Varadero airport courtesy of the Westjet Holidays tour operator. While en route, there was a light grind for tips from the bus host and the driver.

We were dropped off and went into the terminal. It’s pretty much a bare bones affair here in the Varadero departures hall. Westjet was the only flight leaving at this time and there was no priority check in for plus. This meant a general queue for all travellers checking in.

Juan G Gomez Varadero International Airport
Large Cargo Being Loaded into Ancient Cuban American Vintage Cars
The Institutional International Check In Departures Hall

Most of the flights today were again headed upwards destined for Canada, with a duo of European flights up to Milan and Frankfurt. Interestingly, there was also a Cubana flight destined for Toronto. Cubana is the national airline of Cuba and sometimes operate Soviet era aircraft.

Varadero Flight Departures Board

The ground staff appeared to be viciously checking bag weight and several travelers had their bags open at the gate agent attempting to shift weight around between bags.

We got our boarding cards and our bags tagged through to YYX Abbotsford. Strangely, we were unable to get our boarding cards for the next Calgary – Abbotsford segment.

While we were completing check in procedures at the counter, we got propositioned from the check in agent in an attempt to change Canadian Money to Cuban Pesos Convertibles but the rate that he was offering “1 for 1” was not really competitive so we politely declined his offer. He happened to ask the same offer to our traveling companions who were right behind us. I suspect he got into possession of some money and had no real way of getting rid of it, or didn’t want to exchange it at the official exchange rate.

We proceeded immediately thereafter to the Cuban exit immigration check point where we were stamped out of Cuba and our tourist cards were surrendered.

Departure Exit Immigration

We had purchased ECETSA wifi cards (national Cuban Wifi network) at the hotel and after several attempts, we were able to get onto the wifi network which was a little bit faster than the hotel. I tried to get us a seat assignment on the Westjet website for our second non paid seat assignment segment but it didn’t allow access to online check in from Cuba and our trip wouldn’t show in the airline website as it was already underway.

The terminal was much more fashionable on the secure side than the institutional departures hall. It had all the hallmarks of the cosmetic section of that small town department store that I grew up in

Varadero International Departures Concourse, Secure Side


It also had one of the more entertaining airport signs that I’ve seen in a while; music is all around!

The Ability to Locate Music while travelling was of Important for Cuban Travellers

We had a sandwich in the only restaurant on the secure side. It was a cash affair, although bills and payments were offered in both Canadian and Cuban Pesos Convertibles. The cashier, who had her own table on the side, held all the cash in a used cigar box (instead of a cash register).

Cuban Panini Sandwiches
Cuban Sandiwches

We hit up the Duty Free, which thankfully offered something other than Havana Club Rum. There were the regular international brands – some with inflated prices. The Havana Club is offered at the Duty Free at the same price point as the streets of Cuba – presumably because there is no actual tax on the alcohol in Cuba. We managed to come away with Gordon’s Gin for 19 CUC ($19 USD) and Stoli Vodka for $15 CAD. They were selling Dom Perignon champagne for over 468 CUC ($468 USD).

We had a massive boarding call today- no segregated boarding in this country. Somehow ,there were no zone descriptors on the boarding cards so we went for the scramble to get on board.

Boarding at Gate #4
Westjet
Economy Class
VRA-YYC (Varadero Cuba International Airport – Calgary International Airport)
WJ 2391
November 12, 2016
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800
Departure: 2:25 PM
Arrival: 6:45 PM
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On Board Westjet Airlines:

Our Boeing 737-800 narrow body plane was of the same 3 – 3 configuration as we had on the way down. We had a a view of Plus “business light”seating on the way by.

Westjet Business Class: Economy with a Blocked Middle

I had pre-booked emergency exit rows for us today at the cost of $30 CAD ($24.20 USD) per seat for this five hour segment. It offered much more leg room than the regular seats.

Emergency Exit Row Seating: Additional Legroom
There were miles of room to the seat in front.

There were lots of cackling from the grannies on the plane with the demonstrated in flight safety demonstration. There was no real new content here, but I don’t think many that have flown Westjet are used to hearing the jokes that come along with the announcements.

Departing Cuba:

We had a take off over the absolutely deserted rural country side of Cuba.

Departure Runway at Varadero
Looking Out to a Green Countryside
A pretty undeveloped horizon

The Meal: Buy on Board

I was pretty hungry despite breakfast and the small man lunch at the airport so I ended up perusing the buy on board menu.

Westjet Airlines Buy On Board Menu

They had a special section featuring the Plus seating of the aircraft, that featured the same buy on board menu. It’s a bit disappointing that Westjet has chosen to go with assembling the buy on board materials and presenting them all at once as a business class meal.

The Model Looks Delighted with the Snack Box; if she only knew it was the same as economy

I ended up with a ham and cheese croissant, sour cream Pringles chips, and a ginger ale.

A Ham and Swiss Croissant, Pringles and a Ginger Ale.

There was bright sun on the left side of the aircraft so it was window shades closed for most of the flight. We had some nice sunset views over the wing as the flight drew to a close.

Sunset Views Approaching the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies

There wasn’t much for entertainment so I watched National Lampoon Christmas Vacation on the Westjet App online, and caught up on some old newspapers that I had brought with me that I didn’t get the chance to read.

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Returning to Canada:

We landed at the new Calgary international airport. The arrivals hall was less impressive than the twin totem poles of Vancouver, and less large than the entry halls in Toronto Pearson International Airport and Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

As they say, “Welcome to Canada”, eh?

Okay, it’s obvious that at the time of our visit, the Calgary Airport Authority hadn’t gotten their mojo quite right with the opening of the Calgary International Airport terminal. Since Westjet uses the airport as a connecting hub, most of their passengers are connecting flights. Unfortunately, there were only 3 primary inspection lines at customs open today for connecting passengers, which are separated from arriving passengers. This meant a line across the entire arrivals hall, blocking up pretty much every lane. It didn’t seem like a lot of happy travellers here today.

A Long Line of Connecting Travellers stretching across the arrivals hall
Waiting to be let into Canada.

We eventually made it through to the arrivals side. The bags took about 45 minutes tp be put out. I suspect that CBSA was x-raying the bags since they seemed to take forever. At the very least, the new Calgary International Airport Arrivals hall is a nice state of the art facility that’s clean and functional.

Calgary International Airport Arrivals Hall

Then, in a last design flaw, the Calgary International Airport has extended a ramp up towards the exit so that the new terminal can connect with the level surface of the old terminal. The only problem is that all the exiting customers have to stop on the ramp to turn in their customs card, causing the bags to roll down the ramp resulting in tip overs in some cases.

Exit Ramps with a Slight Angle that Bites
Ramp Tip Bag Tip Overs while Turning in Your Declaration Cards

Still, there were some nice features and appearances at the new airport. This one was on the public side, where we had an extra long walk over to the domestic terminal since they hadn’t gotten their act together to open the Westjet Connections desk in the International Arrivals area.

Bistro on the Bow: Public Side at Calgary International Airport

We were able to head over to the Calgary Domestic airline check in counters for a connecting Westjet Airlines Calgary – Abbotsford flight home.

My Thoughts on the Westjet Airlines International Service from Cuba:

In summary, Westjet Airlines International service from Cuba to Canada was a reasonable flight. No one will be mixing it up for Lufthansa First Class but it was a reasonable way to get around. I was happy I had a snack before boarding as the food supplies were quite limited. It doesn’t seem worthwhile springing for “Plus” business class light as the food offerings were drawn from economy and the seat wasn’t much different than the regular economy offering.


If you’ve flown with Westjet Airlines on Westjet Vacations, did you find their services to be reasonable and as promised ?

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