Westjet shifts capacity to Swoop in fall schedule

Swoop launches Toronto operations Sunday

Fall 2020 schedule shows capacity shift from Westjet to Swoop in Toronto and Edmonton

Westjet winter 2020
A Westjet Boeing 737-800 departs Vancouver International Airport in June 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Westjet is signalling a greater coordination than ever before between mainline routes and its Swoop low-cost subsidiary in its fall 2020 schedule, showing a shift in capacity in two of the group’s major markets.

The trend was revealed Monday as Westjet released its schedule for October and November. The airline said it would fly 1,428 weekly flights to 48 destinations in Canada, the United States, Caribbean, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

The airline’s plans suggest executives see a largely flat market through the fall and into the winter. Popular routes to southern sunspots – a favourite for people escaping the Canadian winter – show a marked decline from 2019.

“This fall we continue to offer guests stringent safety measures and travel that meets their needs during this extraordinary time,” said Arved von zur Muehlen, WestJet Chief Commercial Officer. “As more people consider flying and as business and economies begin to open up, we are thoughtfully and carefully connecting key markets while ensuring safety throughout the journey.” 

Calgary, Westjet’s primary hub, will see 416 weekly departures, almost as many as Westjet flew in April, before COVID took its full toll on the airline. Westjet will return to Palm Springs, Phoenix, Puerto Vaillarta, and Cabo San Lucas on top of relaunching Dreamliner service between Toronto and London-Gatwick.

To reassure travellers, Westjet announced last week it would provide free COVID insurance on international flights, except to the U.S.

westjet shifts capacity to Swoop

Westjet shifts to Swoop

But two of Westjet’s major markets stand out in the fall. In Toronton and Edmonton, the number of weekly mainline departures is falling. Instead, Westjet is shifting capacity to its ultra low-cost subsidiary.

Swoop announced at the beginning of September that it would launch operations from Toronto, transferring all but a handful of flights form Hamilton. Swoop will fly 39 weekly departures from Toronto starting in late October. The net effect is 14 additional weekly departures out of Toronto.

Six of those weekly departures will be to Edmonton, directly replacing one Westjet flight between the two cities. It’s not the first time Swoop has replaced a Westjet route. In 2018, Westjet was forced to reverse course when angry passengers expressed outrage the company was shifting capacity to Swoop between Edmonton and Las Vegas.

The shift to Swoop is even more marked in the Alberta capital where Westjet is reducing its weekly capacity by 19 flights this fall. To make up the difference, Swoop is adding flights 13 each week to destinations in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. The combined effect shows a slight decrease from 128 weekly departures in August to 126.

Westjet shifts capacity to Swoop
A graph shows Toronto will see a decline in Westjet mainline capacity in October with Swoop picking up the slack. A similar trend is shown in Edmonton.

Westjet is among Canada’s airlines pushing to ease domestic and international travel restrictions. In response to the global pandemic, Canada closed its borders to most foreign travellers. Ottawa also advised Canadians against leaving the country and anyone coming home must self-isolate for 14 days.

Pushing for a safe reopening

The airlines are trying to get ahead of the crisis. The shift from Westjet to Swoop is one element, with most experts predicting the price-sensitive leisure market will recover first. Westjet said last month it would partner with Vancouver International to try testing passengers for COVID before they board. Air Canada, meanwhile, is partnering with Toronto International Airport to collect data on people arriving in the country.

The National Airlines Council of Canada added to the pressure Monday. The council said more than 312,000 people had signed letters demanding Ottawa prioritize restarting travel. The plan includes reopening provincial borders and advertising to Canadians they can safely travel within their own country. Most notably, Canada’s Atlantic provinces still put severe restrictions on anyone visiting from outside the region. The NACC also wants Ottawa to establish opening agreements with safe countries.

“The Prime Minister and his cabinet must take urgent action to support the thousands of business and employees across the country, in communities large and small, that depend on travel and tourism,” said Mike McNaney, the NACC’s President and CEO. “We can safely restart our industry and take steps to ensure its financial viability through sectoral support, but the federal government must act now.”

The pandemic has decimated the aviation industry. Everyone is flying at a reduced schedule. Air Transat reported last week its revenues were down 98.6% in the third quarter.

Forecasts from the Canadian Airports Council suggest the number of travellers will be down 72% this year and 65% in 2021. That will lead airports to lose roughly $4.5 billion in revenue over the next two years.

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Categories: Swoop, Westjet