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For years Canadians have been frustrated by the lack of choice and affordability in the Canadian air travel market. I have heard many stories of Canadians not being able to visit family or explore the country we share, simply because they couldn't afford it.
Despite a clear demand for affordable air travel options, many low-cost airlines like the now-defunct Jetsgo, Zoom and Canada 3000 have failed to thrive in the Canadian market, their failures attributed to market conditions like dispersed population density, challenging weather patterns, expansive geography and the cost of doing business in Canada.
These are significant challenges to be sure, but I often wonder if consumer unfamiliarity and thus lack of understanding of the ultra-low cost model and its value proposition here in Canada was another factor in those unsuccessful ventures.
While the ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) model has proven extremely successful through Europe, Asia and the United States, it's a relatively new concept for most Canadians.
Travellers in established ultralow cost markets have embraced the à la carte style or unbundled travel model typical of ULCCs, where the base fare starts with just an unassigned seat and travellers add required amenities for an additional fee to tailor their experience.
Those who choose to travel with ULCCs can expect a low-frills experience, without some of the complimentary luxuries that have become anticipated in the airline industry such as included baggage, complimentary snacks, and even inflight water service. This approach is a hallmark of ULCCs that don't include the extras in order to keep base fares ultralow and give travellers the ability to pay for what they need and skip what they don't.
From an operational perspective, ULCCs ensure efficiencies by maximizing the flying time of each crew and aircraft. Efficiencies like having the same staff members manage both check-in and boarding is one frugal ULCC approach, but it also means cut-off times are non-negotiable. This is another consideration for travellers, as it's important to arrive at the airport early or on time for ULCC flights to avoid disappointment.
One area where all airlines are equal is where safety is concerned. In order to operate, ULCCs must abide by the same stringent regulations and standards that are applied to all Canadian airlines, there are no shortcuts.
Also similar to other airlines, ULCCs experience inevitable issues such as unexpected delays, aircraft maintenance and weather disruptions. To be frank, such issues impact ULCC reliability more severely than larger carriers. ULCCs generally have a smaller fleet size that is utilized consistently to meet traveller demand and they operate with the standard number of crew members. Due to this, it is more challenging and can take longer for ULCCs to recover when an aircraft is taken out of service or an interruption has occurred.
While ULCC travel is different and there are some compromises, millions of Canadians are already experiencing the opportunities it can bring, from pensioners who live in Ontario flying to visit their grandchildren in B.C. for the first time to new Canadians having the opportunity to explore this magnificent country, their new home.
I see ULCCs filling a critical gap in the Canadian airline industry as they are a vital component to accommodating a more price-sensitive audience because they are more accessible, affordable and enable Canadians to travel more frequently at a lower cost. And I believe the Canadian air travel market has plenty of room for growth. We've seen how the model stimulates market-growth in secondary airports, such as Hamilton, where we have driven 80 per cent of traveller traffic in 2019 from ULCC penetration in the economy. This early success can continue to drive the market forward by offering Canadians competitive pricing and an alternative flying experience.
Canadians have a new option of air travel and I would encourage anyone looking to book that next vacation, flight or trip to embrace all that a ULCC can offer.
Steven Greenway - is the president of Swoop and his career spans more than 20 years of airline, loyalty and advisory experience with an emphasis on low-cost carriers (LCC). Steven has worked across the world with startups, turnarounds and established leading airlines. He joined Swoop in 2018 with accountability for all aspects of the launch and business strategy, including short and long-term planning, branding, pricing, product development, and successful operationalization of Swoop. Steven drives Swoop's footprint in Canada in support of the WestJet Group's long-term global growth strategy.