Discount carrier Flair Airlines is launching service to the United States in the fall, betting that Canadians have a pent-up desire to travel to nearby sun spots after more than a year of pandemic lockdowns.
Service will start on 21 routes from Toronto Pearson and other Canadian airports to six U.S. destinations beginning Oct. 31, the Edmonton-based carrier said in a statement. Fares will start at $79 one-way, the airline said.
“The last 15 months has been brutal,” Flair chief executive Stephen Jones told reporters on a conference call late Wednesday. “But the good news is we’re emerging from it. As we look at our sales figures selling into the future months, week-on-week for the last four weeks, they’ve been jumping significantly. So confidence is returning.”
Airlines in Canada and around the world have parked planes and cut or suspended service as the COVID-19 pandemic caused demand for air travel to collapse amid border closings and travel restrictions. Air Canada , Transat AT and Porter Airlines are among the carriers who have received government aid packages as they try to rebuild their businesses in the months ahead.
Flair is a former charter operator that turned to scheduled passenger service in 2017. It has been revamping its strategy under a new executive team during the crisis, and in January announced it would add 13 new Boeing 737 Max 8 jets to its existing fleet through a lease arrangement with a financier. It currently flies eight airliners and is aiming to grow to 50 planes within five years.
“It’s important as an airline that we do expand our footprint out into the U.S.,” Mr. Jones said, adding he believes that government travel restrictions will relax further by the time cross-border service starts. “As we think about where demand will return, it will come back in the leisure sector … And so I think we’re perfectly positioned to capture that rebound.”
Canada unveiled plans last month to ease border restrictions in early July for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents, shortening quarantine times for travellers as long as they test negative for COVID-19. But it made no changes to who is allowed entry to Canada. Currently only Canadians, permanent residents and those undertaking essential travel are permitted.
Flair will be competing with WestJet Airlines’ low-cost carrier Swoop on several of the destinations announced (Flair’s new U.S. flights will head to Burbank, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Orlando, Palm Springs and Phoenix). The two airlines have clashed before, and Flair has accused WestJet of selling tickets below cost on certain routes in order to win market share and kill competition. Now, Flair says it is confident it can hold its own.
“The real strength of the business comes down to our cost base. We have the lowest cost in the industry in Canada and we’re going to be passing that on to our customer in the form of low fares,” said Flair’s chief commercial officer, Garth Lund. “That’s really what will underpin our competitive strategy.”
This isn’t Flair’s first foray into the U.S. But the current expansion bears no resemblance to the last one in 2018, with a sharpened strategy and “better set-up” under new management, Mr. Jones said.
“We know how to do this,” said Mr. Jones, a veteran executive recruited to Flair last year who previously worked at Air New Zealand and European discount airline Wizz Air. “We’re taking a fresh look at the whole business.”
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.