Burned by its previous Quixiotic adventure into the United States, Canadian low-cost airline Flair is vowing to return south of the border, lessons learned the hard way.
“We had six cities in the U.S., and frankly, we were probably a little too bullish,” admitted Flair Executive Chairman David Tait, in an exclusive interview with Western Aviation News. “Loads were a disappointment.”
Flair Airlines took a pounding on social media when it cancelled flights to sun destinations from Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto in February. A number of routes to Florida and California were dropped with little notice, leaving furious passengers scrambling to save their Spring Break travel plans.
“In this business, you can’t support any time, a losing route. If it’s not working, you have to get off of it, so we did the honourable thing, we refunded and a $50 voucher to anyone who hadn’t flown, we repatriated anybody who was already in their destination on other airlines.”
That gesture didn’t impress everyone. Flair is facing at least one lawsuit from unhappy passengers, and could be forced to pay a greater compensation than it already has.
The episode also led to a warning to passengers from the Canadian Transportation Agency, the airline regulator, that “You may be eligible for a refund, to be rebooked on another flight or you may also be eligible for a reimbursement of damages covered under the Montreal Convention,” and encouraging anyone who was dissatisfied to file a complaint.
The CTA said Thursday it had received 135 complaints relating to Flair since the 3rd week of February, and has “identified approximately 50 complaints specifically related to US flight cancellations.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, in March Flair did it again, pulling the plug on flights to Las Vegas and Mesa, Arizona and abandoning its entire service to the U.S. about a month ahead of schedule. Again, furious passengers took to social media to vent their frustration. This time, Flair blamed the Boeing 737 Max crisis, though in reality, competition was taking its toll.
“On Vegas we had Swoop and Westjet, the only time that that’s happened. That kinda screwed what we had seen as a potential numbers on Vegas, and the loads over the course of the winter were disappointing,” said Tait.
“The loads were disappointing, and we had an option to get out of the lease early, and we just decided to, you know, get out.
“We’re not an Air Canada that can simply keep a flight going if it’s not paying its way.”
In this week’s Sunday Reader, a feature interview with Davit Tait, Executive Chairman of Flair Airlines
Tait said despite the setbacks, Flair will fly again to the U.S., though the programme will be less ambitious, and more tailored to specific markets. For example, departures from Western Canada to Florida won’t be coming back, because the demand just isn’t there.
“We will go back next year, we sort of launched it with too short a lead time, and we also learned from it. It’s important to learn from such experiences, and we found some interesting things, like Western Canadians didn’t seem that interested in going to Florida. We thought that Winnipeg-Orlando and Edmonton-Orlando would sell well; it really didn’t. It didn’t sell like East Coast-Orlando does.”
Tait also indicated routes to the U.S., when they come back, will be announced farther ahead of time, to give passengers time to make plans, and with enough time to build partnerships that help generate traffic.
“We didn’t have time to get into cahoots with cruise lines and stuff because they make those agreements way far in advance. So if and when we go back down there, we’ll have the time to talk to some of the cruise lines about how we can feed them, that’s something that was missing.
“We gave it our best shot, and we’ll go back next next year with not quite the same scale of flying, but we’re certainly not going to give up on the transborder. We’d love to see Las Vegas as a year-round, we looked potentially at Toronto-Miami year-round.”
While not making any promises, Tait said a decision on returning to those routes will be made in good time.
In the meantime, Flair is concentrating on a smaller roster of flights within Canada. More on that in the Western Aviation News Sunday reader this week.