Swoop’s move into Toronto signals a major strategy shift for the Westjet subsidiary which had avoided its parent company’s largest hubs
Canadian ultra low-cost carrier Swoop announced Wednesday it will add Toronto to its route map in October.
“Travel is beginning to rebound, and we want to help encourage Canadians to reconnect with family and friends or plan that long-awaited vacation,” said Charles Duncan, Swoop President, in a statement. “With the robust health and safety measures we have put in place on each of our flights, travellers in Toronto will now have more affordable air travel options than ever before.”
Swoop said it will launch domestic and international routes from Toronto. Details will be released next month.
While it may not be surprising that an airline would want to serve Canada’s largest city and busiest airport, the move nonetheless signals a significant shift in strategy for the Westjet subsidiary.
Until this year, Swoop has steadfastly avoided its parent company’s major hubs. It does not, for example, fly into Calgary, where Westjet continues to concentrate its efforts, even during the pandemic. Swoop has also avoided Vancouver and Toronto, opting for more budget-friendly airports in Hamilton and Abbotsford.
Swoop was started as a backstop as Westjet abandoned its low-cost roots and shifted to higher-yield flying. It continues to add a business class, and has added Boeing 787 Dreamliners on key routes to Europe.
Following in Westjet’s footsteps
When Westjet started flying into Southern Ontario, it too avoided Toronto. The plucky upstart out of Alberta established a hub in Hamilton. Passenger numbers soared – to more than one million people in 2003. The next year, Westjet moved its Ontario hub to Toronto’s Pearson airport. Passenger numbers in Hamilton collapsed, and Westjet never looked back.
Evidently, though, executives didn’t forget their Hamilton experience. When Swoop launched in 2018, Hamilton became the airline’s largest base. Last year, Hamilton once again approached the million-passenger mark, thanks in large part to Swoop’s numerous departures to destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The pandemic could be playing a role in the timing of the move in several ways. First, airports report that most of the people they are serving right now are visiting friends and relatives – a market segment made for an airline like Swoop. Rival Flair has just launched a major pandemic-era expansion connecting Toronto with a number of new cities in Western Canada. The airline said it was responding to an uptick in passenger demand.
Another factor influencing the timing could be the changing nature of travel restrictions. In the winter, Swoop makes its money flying Canadians to holiday destinations in the south. Last year, the carrier signed an alliance with Sunwing, which does most of its flying out of Toronto. While it’s not clear what Canada’s border policies will be this winter, this announcement would more closely align their efforts.
It’s not clear what Swoop’s shift to Toronto means for Hamilton in the long term. Swoop said it will continue to serve the city, though it did not provide details.