Westjet flash mob draws Pentictonites to airport

Saturday, the people of Penticton gathered to send a message to Westjet.

The campaign to bring WestJet to Penticton left the world of social media and got real last Saturday.

That’s when, dressed in blues and greens and lots of layers to keep warm, about 500 community members gathered on a cold, windy afternoon at Penticton Regional Airport to join a singing, dancing mob sending out the message that the South Okanagan would really, really like WestJet to start flying out of the airport.

“It is fantastic, look at this. Who would have ever believed that everybody would have such a desire to have another airline in here,” said Lascha Main of the Downtown Penticton Association, who was guiding people to sign in at a registration table.

DPA volunteers registered about 500 people coming to take part in the event, which took place on the tarmac in front of the airport terminal, led by dancers from Okanagan Dance Studios, who gave the crowd a short training session to teach them the choreographed dance moves planned for the event.

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton was out on the tarmac, dancing with the crowd and pleased to see the level of participation.

“This is a terrific turnout,” he said, adding that the desire and the promotion being done to draw WestJet to Penticton is not because Air Canada Jazz has done a poor job serving the airport and the South Okanagan community, but that they would like to see more options for flying out of Penticton to all destinations.

“We want to ensure that the people of the South Okanagan and the Similkameen — that’s 80,000 plus people — have the opportunity of a jet, especially jet service going east. I am quite sure there is substantial support,” said Ashton. “We want to be sure that the opportunity presents itself, especially for those who want to travel east, that there are alternatives. By having alternatives, competition, it keeps everyone a bit sharper.”

“I was so impressed with the turnout and the community support. It was outstanding,” said city manager Annette Antoniak, who is credited with originating the idea for the dance mob, a video of which will be sent to WestJet next week, as well as being shared on YouTube after being unveiled at Monday’s council meeting.

Antoniak said that credit for getting the event going goes to the people that came forward to organize it, including the Downtown Penticton Association’s Barb Haynes, the dance studio and Coun. Andrew Jakubeit.

“I simply came up with the idea, but it was Barb and the dance studio and Andrew (Jakubeit) that pulled it all together in such a short time,” said Antoniak. “I haven’t seen the final product yet, but everything I have heard has been how much people enjoyed it, and how much we really need this service here.”

It’s a message that’s been going out to WestJet executives since the beginning of February, when the company announced they were considering opening a new regional airline.

So far, social media has played a huge part in the campaign with thousands of followers for the Bring WestJet to Penticton page on Facebook and thousands of messages being exchanged on Twitter using the hashtag #WestJetPenticton. And social media played a crucial role in gathering Saturday’s mob, with the call to action going out and being shared across the networks.

“It’s just being able to get out there as a community and demonstrate what we can do when we all get together. It was just a very positive experience,” said Antoniak. “I think the community here are very engaged and passionate and that sure came out in spades on Saturday. It shows you what this community will do in terms of getting behind something if they feel strongly about it.”