Canadian ultra low-cost carrier believes time is right to plan new flights to the United States with flights from eight Canadian cities
Flair announced Thursday it plans service to six destinations in the United States from Canada in the coming winter season. Eight Canadian cities will be connected with popular tourist destinations starting in late October.
Flair will launch US service from Vancouver, Abbotsford, Calgary, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. Fares to the US will start at $79 – $109, though, of course with a ULCC, you pay for every service you use.
“This is obviously timed at the beginning of November end of October to take advantage of the Canadian desire to go somewhere warm at this time of year,” said Flair President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Jones in a conference call. “We really think that there’s a strong demand going going to come to these new services so we’ll be bringing out normal ultra low cost into these destinations.”
In making the announcement he is placing a bet. First, that the border will fully reopen with the United States – it has been closed since March 2020 to all but essential travel. Secondly, that people there is pent-up demand to get out and go somewhere. “July itself is, I would say, a transition month,” said Jones. “But as we look forward into our future bookings, August and September and October are showing real strength. And so when we think about the start of this service being at the end of October beginning of November, by that stage we’re confident that COVID, while it may not have been completely behind that will certainly have heavy restrictions will be workable, people want to travel. “
Secondary US airports
Generally, the destinations Flair has chosen have proved popular with Canadians in the past. For example, Flair will fly to Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Southern California – all popular holiday destinations. The airline will use its growing fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft to a total of 26 destinations in Canada and the US.
At the same time, Flair is betting that people are willing to fly into secondary airports if it means saving money.
For example, to serve Orlando, Flair has chosen the relatively little-known Orlando-Sanford International. It is clearly the region’s secondary airport, but growing in popularity among low-cost carriers. “We did consider airport, Orlando, as well as Stanford in order to offer the lowest fare to our customer,” said Garth Lund, Flair’s Chief Commercial Officer. “We basically want to fly into the cheapest airport. That gives us the lowest cost and we can pass that on to our customers in the form of low fares.”
Flair has done the same in Phoenix, where it will use Mesa as its gateway. This is the same strategy rival Swoop uses to serve the region.
To serve Los Angeles, Flair will fly into Burbank. The airport handled more than 5 million passengers before the pandemic – mostly from Southwest Airlines. But it is relatively unknown to Canadian passengers, who are more accustomed to flying through LAX.
ULCC transborder competition
Flair’s announcement comes almost a month after rival Swoop revealed its plans for the coming winter. The Westjet subsidiary is also seeing an uptick in reservations for the fall and winter. The airline operated a large network of flights to the US and Mexico before the pandemic. It will slowly return this year, cutting the number of flights and cities. But unlike Flair, Swoop plans a return to Mexico.
It also flies US routes from four Canadian cities Flair has chosen not to serve – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Victoria. Conversely, Flair’s plans show a growing confidence in markets that didn’t have ULCC service until this summer, namely Ottawa and Montreal.
The longest route served by either carrier will be Edmonton-Orlando-Sanford on Swoop at 3,790 km. The next longest will be on Flair from Toronto to Burbank, 3,480 km.
Flair chose its Canadian departure points based on its crew deployment – another cost-saving measure. “We have Canadian points from which we’ll be flying to the US,” said Lund. “These are mainly our aircraft and crew bases, which are Toronto-Pearson, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Abbotsford. We were able to add in services from a few other points to say, our main bases.”
The result is very little overlap between the two carriers. Interestingly, they will only directly compete on two transborder routes. Flair and Swoop will go head to head from Toronto to Mesa, Arizona and Toronto to Orlando-Sanford.
Flair plans a return to the United States
Flair’s plans mark a return to the transborder market. It previously served the US from Edmonton and Winnipeg in 2019. With sluggish sales, the airline beat a hasty retreat, stranding passengers and angering the public.
“We are very different business from when we last went to the States,” said Jones. “We have looked back into the past. And we can learn from what happened there. We’ve taken those lessons but we know how to do this. And so, we are now moving forward with the new network with the better setup.”
Fate is, however, not without a sense of humour. When Flair cancelled its US routes two years ago, it was indirectly because the 737 MAX was grounded around the world. When that happened, the demand for available aircraft skyrocketed. Flair made more money returning its leased aircraft than it did flying to the States.
Now, thanks to the pandemic, there is a glut of aircraft waiting to be deployed. So Flair is getting its hands on brand-new 737 Maxs at very good prices, allowing the airline to return to the United States.
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