CALGARY - WestJet Airlines Ltd. has landed a deal that will bring Asian travellers into its network through a pact with Cathay Pacific, but an analyst said Monday even greater potential may be found closer to home.
"If you think about Asian traffic into North America relative to other opportunities, it's probably important, but not the most critical," said David Tyerman with Cannacord Genuity.
"The most critical would likely be out of the U.S."
An agreement with Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) fell through earlier this year, but Tyerman said there are plenty of other U.S. partners WestJet can approach.
"I'm sure they're probably talking to everybody they can," he said.
WestJet (TSX:WJA) confirmed Sunday it had inked a code-share agreement with Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., for travel from Oct. 20. The codeshare agreement allows each carrier to sell seats on its partner's flights.
WestJet president and CEO Gregg Saretsky called the airline's first code-share pact a "significant milestone."
"We are very excited to partner with Cathay Pacific, one of the world's most prestigious and successful airlines, to offer our unique guest experience to a whole new group of guests," Saretsky said in a statement.
Saretsky has said he wants the airline to eventually tap into markets on every continent.
Code sharing will be key for Calgary-based WestJet to expand internationally, since its own fleet of Boeing 737s don't have the range for transoceanic flights.
Earlier this year, WestJet and Cathay Pacific signed an interline pact, allowing them to work together on baggage handling and other tasks. WestJet also entered into a baggage agreement with Dragon Air, a regional Cathay Pacific subsidiary.
Interline pacts often pave the way for code-share deals, which makes travel even more seamless between two different airlines.
WestJet already has an interline deal with Air France and the Netherlands' KLM to bring European traffic into its system, but it has yet to ink a deal with a U.S. carrier.
Under its codeshare agreement with WestJet, Cathay Pacific's "CX" code will appear on flights to its two Canadian gateways, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as on connections to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
Cathay Pacific's chief executive, Tony Tyler, said the company was very pleased with the announcement.
"This latest partnership will further expand our network and give passengers seamless connections on a quality carrier to six more cities in Canada — a country that's popular both as a leisure and business destination for travellers from Hong Kong and Mainland China," he said.
WestJet's shares were down a dime to $11.93 on the Toronto Stock Exchange around mid-day Monday.