This article was published on September 21st, 2013
There’s a lot that goes on at an airport. When a WestJet guest arrives at the airport for check in, they hand off their bags to the agent, head through security and board the plane. Seems pretty simple, right? Little do most people know, there’s a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes at WestJet to keep flights running on time.
There’s a reason why WestJet ask guest to arrive at least an hour before boarding time if they are checking in baggage. When a guest checks a bag and it’s whisked away on the little conveyor belt, it starts a very long journey. Each bag travels along hundreds of meters, maybe even over a kilometer, of conveyor belts. Along the way it goes through a number of screenings.
The high-tech screening devices look at the density of contents. If the machine detects something abnormal, it then gets sent to a larger scanner for a more in-depth scan. Most baggage usually passes through the secondary scan and gets back onto the main line, but if it doesn’t, then it’s sent for a level five screening, which means the bag is pulled aside and WestJet operations crews need to locate the guest either in the airport or on the plane, and they are all brought into a room with airport security to open the bag to reveal the suspicious contents.
One the bags make it through security they are then sent over to one of two baggage areas, eastern bound, or western bound. The bags are loaded on to carts. Each cart is labeled with the flight number. As the bags come off the line, they are scanned and placed onto the appropriate cart. Each bag is electronically accounted for. The total amount of bags that were scanned at the check-in counter for the individual flight must match the number of bags on the carts for the plane that is being loaded. It can get crazy for the ground operations crews when a cart is sent off to the wrong airplane and then they have to go find it, which doesn’t happen often. WestJet has less than a 0.5% missing luggage rate. This is because Transport Canada requires all luggage to be on the same plane as the passenger.
The crews on the ground have a lot of work to do as soon as an aircraft arrive. They have to help the flight crew safely get the plane to the right bay and secure the aircraft. The crew quickly begins to unload the checked baggage and send it over to the conveyor belts headed into the arrivals lounge. Once that is done, they head back with another baggage cart full of luggage ready to be loaded for the next flight.
There are also dedicated maintenance people who ensure that the aircraft are safe to fly. If there is maintenance required the crews can usually take care of the minor repairs from the time the plane arrives until it is scheduled to depart. For example, they can change a wheel on the landing gear in about a half-hour while the plane is being de-boarded and re-boarded for the next flight, without any guests knowing.
If a flight is going to be delayed there’s an operations crew inside The Brain, who are highly skilled, who will quickly determine the length of delay and make decisions to hold the passengers for the planned aircraft, or re-assign the flight to another aircraft. This happens live-time and they have to work quickly and seamlessly with all operations crews being aware of the minute-by-minute changes. They use a sophisticated computer system to allow them to plan and track the movements of every aircraft scheduled for arrival and departure.
Next time you’re boarding a WestJet flight, rest assured that there is an army of people working behind the scenes to help make sure you get to your destination on time and safely. And when your flight starts ‘pushing back’ from the bay, take a look out the window, it’s a WestJet tradition to have the ground crew smile and ‘wave’ off each and every flight. Safe travels!