October 19, 2021 By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
As Canada’s major airlines focus on COVID-19 recovery, an Edmonton-based discount carrier is embarking on an aggressive expansive plan.
Flair Airlines, which currently serves 18 Canadian cities, is aiming to take market share from mainline carriers Air Canada and WestJet Airlines by offering unbundled, bare-bones fares to budget-conscious travellers.
On Tuesday, Flair announced it is both growing its fleet and expanding its service to new destinations in Canada and the U.S. The airline said it will add four new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to its fleet in the spring of 2022.
This brings Flair’s total aircraft count to 16, and will allow the airline to expand its route offerings by 33 per cent. Flair will launch service this spring to new destinations including San Francisco, Nashville and Denver.
It will also launch service between Toronto and Victoria and to Comox, B.C., for the first time.
“Travelling and reconnecting with friends will be among the top priorities for many Canadians in the coming months, and Flair is continuing our growth by adding more aircraft and routes so we can bring sustainably low fares to even more iconic destinations across North America,” said Stephen Jones, Flair Airlines president and chief executive, in a news release.
Flair is also starting service to 6 U.S. destinations this fall. The airline says it will grow to serve 28 destinations by spring 2022.
The unbundled, “ultra-low-cost” carrier model — whereby passengers pay a low base fare and then pay extra for add-ons like checked bags, cancellations and changes, and seat selection — has taken off in Europe and the U.S., but remains uncommon in Canada. Only Flair and WestJet subsidiary Swoop currently operate in the space, though Calgary-based Enerjet and Vancouver-based Canada Jetlines have both indicated their intent to launch discount carriers in the future.
Rick Erickson, an aviation analyst based in Calgary, said part of the problem for independent challengers is the sheer dominance of Air Canada and WestJet in the Canadian market.
“There are two 400-pound gorillas in the cage that generally smash the heck out of any new entrants,” Erickson said.
That’s why Flair’s expansion move is so interesting, Erickson added, in that it takes advantage of a period in time when both Air Canada and WestJet are struggling to rebuild in the wake of a global pandemic that decimated their revenues and forced both airlines to lay off large portions of their workforce.
“The timing of this tells me these guys (Flair) are shrewd operators,” he said. “There’s an opportunity here, as both Air Canada and WestJet are struggling to get up and going again.”
Flair has also done a good job of “stepping around” the major airlines, Erickson said, by flying into secondary airports. For example, Flair flies to Hollywood-Burbank, Calif., instead of Los Angeles International Airport, and Phoenix-Mesa instead of the much larger Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“Everything I see from them tells me someone is really thinking. There’s definitely a plan here,” Erickson said. “There is a possibility this could turn into a pretty significant airline.”
Flair says the addition of the new aircraft will create 150 new jobs for flight attendants, pilots and operational support staff. Flair is currently recruiting for 100 pilot jobs to meet the needs of its growing fleet.