Canadians hoping to fly with WestJet’s planned ultra low-cost carrier (ULCC) should prepare themselves for a flight that is short on legroom and takes added costs to another level, experts say.
Consumers may already have experience with discount airlines, but experts say ULCCs take what is called the practice of “unbundling” a trip one step further.
“It’s basically bare bones,” said Fred Lazar, an associate professor at York University who follows the aviation business. “ULCC are catering to the price conscious traveller that doesn’t care about advanced seat assignment and can do everything online.”
Passengers used to paying extra for food or fees for carry-on luggage should prepare themselves, as no-frills airlines can charge for anything from putting a bag in the overhead compartment or even printing a boarding pass at the airport (Spirit Airlines charges $10 per boarding pass printed).
Samoa Air, a small airline which flies domestically and to American Samoa, infamously charges passengers to fly based on their weight.
Yet, Lazar points to ULCCs like Ryanair and EasyJet which have become dominant forces in the European market and Spirit airlines has been successful in the U.S.
WestJet Airlines announced its new no-frills carrier Thursday which is scheduled to take off later this year.
“Our new airline will provide Canadians a pro-competitive, cheap and cheerful flying experience from a company with a proven track record,” the company said in a statement.
WestJet already operates as a discount airline and began offering flights last year from Vancouver to London, U.K. for just $300. But if you wanted to be fed on a flight that is more than 7,600 kilometres, it came at a cost, leading to complaints from fliers.
The airline has revealed few details about its pricing scheme or where it plans to fly but said the yet-to-be-named carrier will be using “high-density” aircraft. The airline’s plan to take 10 existing Boeing 737s and add more seats could also be complicated by an upcoming unionization vote by pilots.
Experts say the move by WestJet could also be a reaction to aspiring discount airlines like Canada Jetlines and Enerjet which were recently granted exemptions from Canada’s strict foreign investment rules for airlines to help create more competition among low-cost carriers.
“WestJet finally decided ‘look it’s better to capture this market now and make it difficult if not impossible for anybody else to enter this market,’” Lazar said.
Last summer, NewLeaf Travel started offering “no-frills” flights between smaller airports including Kelowna, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Moncton, N.B. and Halifax. But the company had to delay its launch to due to a series of regulatory issues and began to cancel destinations as WestJet began adding similar routes.
Changmin Jiang, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business, says he’s not “optimistic” about the future of low-cost carriers in Canada, noting that Canada doesn’t have the population density to make ULCCs work as they do in Europe and the U.S.
“A ticket for a low-cost carrier pretty much just means it will take you from an origin to a destination,” Jian said. “This is the trend for the aviation market in general.”
Jian says carriers like Air Canada and American Airlines have also begun unbundling their services, charging more for specific seats or carry-on luggage.
“WestJet’s [ULCC} will be aggressive, at least in the beginning because they want to have market share so they will be offering good deals in terms of price,” he said. “But in terms of service, I think it will be just like other ULCCs which are not famous for their service.”
— With files from the Canadian Press