Sipping South Okanagan wines inflight over the snow-capped Rockies, passengers aboard Sunday’s inaugural WestJet Encore flight 3281 from Calgary to Penticton were all smiles.
One of the people with the broadest grin was Karen Anderson, owner of Calgary Food Tours Inc. seated in row 15.
“We are a food and wine appreciation touring company and I’m also a huge, longtime Penticton fan,” said Anderson who bought a residence here seven years ago. “I think this air service will definitely impact the popularity of Penticton in a positive way.
“I have inadvertently and very conveniently been researching it (Penticton) for the past 15 years and I know all the secret places and my clientele rely on me for that information, so I’m poised to showcase the hidden gems.”
She anticipates bringing groups of about a dozen people at a time to the region to sample not only the food and wine but the wide range of activities available as well.
“My customers are not only great food and wine travellers, they’re also fun people who like food and adventure and the Penticton area is the complete picture, the beautiful water, skiing, golf, triathlons everything you could want. They’re also ones crossing things off their bucket list.”
The welcome she and the other passengers received after touching down at Penticton Regional Airport and walking into the packed terminal was described as “overwhelming.”
Especially impressed was WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese.
“Penticton did their very, very best to pitch WestJet why service to this community made sense and I can tell you today’s a good example of why,” he told the crowd. “You guys have been nothing short of amazing and you should give yourselves a round of applause. Penticton just makes complete sense.”
He also got a cheer when he described the company’s role as lowering airfares and increasing traffic volume the way it has in the other smaller centres that WestJet has moved into.
After starting out with just two planes and 10 destinations in 2012, Encore now has 15 aircraft with 90 daily departures between the West Coast and Toronto, Ont. and expects to be coast to coast by 2015.
“This one’s (Penticton-Calgary service) been a long time coming and we’re really excited about it,” said Pugliese at the Calgary International Airport before leaving. “We’re looking forward to this fall and, more importantly, as we build this through next summer.
“Launching into Penticton, a community right now we believe is under served, is just another opportunity for us to grow and to offer airfare and air travel to folks who could not otherwise access it.”
Also on board for the Calgary to Penticton flight was CEO and president Sandra Oldfield and wine club manager Terry Meyer Stone of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.
“For me personally it means I don’t have to drive to drive to Kelowna every time I need to go. We sell a lot of wine in Calgary and it helps us really connect with our customers on a personal level,” said Oldfield. “It also helps connects the South Okanagan to Eastern Canada, for me which is great.”
For Meyer Stone, who is from Calgary, there is an added benefit.
“I love having that closeness with my family and any time we have options that’s good for lifestyles and that’s good for commerce,” she said.
The daily, non-stop flights aboard the 78-passenger Bombardier Nextgen Q400 turboprop aircraft leaves Calgary at 2:05 p.m. (MDT) arriving in Penticton at 2:21 p.m. (PDT) and leaving at 2:55 p.m.