Introducing Mr. WestJet

Greg Saretsky dishes on Bits & Bites and personal flight style

westjet president gregg saretsky / photo by toque & canoe

When you’ve visited more than 250 cities in 34 countries, we expect you’ve got your personal “flight style” down to a science.

Which is why we thought it might be fun to do a Q & A with WestJet president and CEO Gregg Saretsky – who landed the position last year and whose aim is to make WestJet a household name not just in Canada but internationally.

Before we get started, though, we have to say Mr. Saretsky is a total sport.

He recently let Toque chase him around WestJet’s offices (inside and out) near the Calgary International Airport – where he posed for photographs in a variety of locations. Props included everything from a jet engine to his favourite airplane snack to a pair of sunglasses he doesn’t own but should.

In the end, we chose this shot because we liked that it was a little, shall we say, Mad Men-ish. And, if you ask Toque, because of “how the plane eased across the runway into the photo and Gregg seamlessly moved along with it as I snapped away. Everybody was cooperating. The whole experience was classic WestJet.”

Q. Frequent flyers are often selective about their choice of clothing when they’re in the air. Tell us Mr. Saretsky, what’s your favourite sky travel ensemble?

A. I like a nice pair of jeans, a Robert Graham shirt – something with a little bit of flash – and a sports jacket.

Q. Are you a chatty airplane passenger? Do you converse with your seat mates? Or, do you prefer to travel quietly and get lost in a film or a book?

A. I don’t like it when people talk my ear off so I try not to do the same. If I’m flying WestJet, I let everyone on board know I’m there and I thank them for their business. Then, I roll up my sleeves and get to work. I think our guests get as much delight seeing me push the beverage cart as our flight attendants do.

Afterwards, I return to my seat where I usually have a thick manilla folder full of business details I never get around to. And I always have one or two business books on the go. I’m a big fan of U.S. author and management guru Ken Blanchford. And I’m currently reading Ignite the Third Factor by Peter Jensen.

Q. How about airplane snacks? What’s your favourite and why?

A. Bits & Bites. I guess I’m a salty snack kind of guy.

Q. Are you an earphone snob? So many high-end products are on the market these days and lots of passengers swear by them.

A. I have to confess I always go for WestJet’s premium earbuds. You can get them for ten bucks but they’re like the Skullcandy earbuds all the kids have these days – only half the price.

Q. What annoys you most about airlines that purport to be quality companies?

A. Two things. Dumb rules and bad attitudes. Why, for example, would a one way ticket cost more than a round ticket? Or, how about this? Have you ever flown on an airplane and had staff give you the sense that they’re doing you a favour – even though those of us who are flying are actually creating work that gives them a paycheck?

Q. Tell us, what impresses you most about service on a flight?

A. Big smiles. When you can tell the staff are happy to be where they’re working.

Q. What do you love most about flying as a means of travel?

A. I love it when the plane breaks through the top of a cloud on an overcast day – when that expansiveness and bright sunshine hits you. It makes me imagine what it must be like for a bird to fly. It gives men wings.

Q. You’re fifty now. Married, with three kids. Are you where you imagined you’d be?

A. When I first met my wife, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her one day I hope I’m going to run an airline. Twenty-six years later and here I am – thankful to be leading a team of WestJetters and an airline that is among the best in the world. It truly is a dream come true.

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