AIRPORTS: Swoop and Flair battle it out in Edmonton


Canadian ultra low-cost airlines Flair Air and Swoop are duking it out for supremacy among passengers searching for the lowest fares, and it’s the people of Edmonton, Alberta who are benefitting. Both airlines have chosen the western Canadian city as key to their futures.

Flair is based in Edmonton and has made the Prairie city its hub, while Swoop is based 300 km south in Calgary and has made Edmonton its second base of operations, after Hamilton, Ontario.

Both airlines promise low fares where staples of a typical flight – carry-on baggage, drinks, even a paper ticket – all cost more.

An analysis of flights the week of January 14, 2019 (after the holiday rush) shows that together, Swoop and Flair will operate 89 flights from Edmonton to 11 destinations, including one market that has never been served from Northern Alberta, Miami, Florida.

You can get there from here: chart showing number of flights from Edmonton to various destinations on ultra low-cost carriers Swoop and Flair for the week of January 14, 2019. 

While Canada’s two self-styled Ultra low-cost carriers compete on some routes, their flight frequencies from Edmonton show diverging strategies, owing mainly to Flair’s concentration on its Edmonton hub.

Flair will operate 50 flights from Edmonton the week of January 14, 2019.

It has made Edmonton-Toronto and Edmonton-Metro Vancouver (splitting flights between Vancouver and Abbotsford) the backbone of its route structure, and flies at least daily to Winnipeg as well as a number of destinations in the United States, including the airline’s longest route to Miami, Florida, a distance of more than 4,000 km.

A map of Flair Airlines’ frequencies from Edmonton for the week of January 14, 2019. The map shows the greatest frequencies are to Toronto and Metro Vancouver, with a wide network beyond those key trunks.

Swoop, on the other hand, is scheduled to fly 39 flights from Edmonton the week of January 14, with flights twice a day to Abbotsford, and 11 flights to the airline’s hub in Hamilton, Ontario.

Swoop is backed by Calgary-based Westjet, and does not generally operate the same routes as its parent airline.

A map shows Swoop’s frequencies from Edmonton for the week of January 14, 2019. The larger green circles show a concentration of flights to Hamilton, Ontario and Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Both Flair and Swoop compete on flights to the tourist mecca of Las Vegas, Nevada and to Arizona.

What has the effect been on airfaires?

Flair claims that where it operates, fares have fallen and the number of passengers has increased.

Statistics Canada reports on airfares from different cities in Canada in every quarter. The figures show that, across the country between the first quarter of 2016 and 2018, the cost of air travel fell 1.9 per cent. But in Edmonton, where ultra low-cost carriers are competing fiercely, fares dropped a whopping seven per cent over the same period.

The Bloedel conservatory is a tourist attraction in Vancouver. Swoop and Flair fly from Edmonton to the West Coast’s Lower Mainland, making the market a key battleground in the ultra low-cost war.  (photo: Brett Ballah)

Both Flair and Swoop have unveiled major expansion plans, bringing their brand of cheap flying to more destinations, giving more Canadians the chance to reap the rewards of lower air fares.