Some Canadians who planned to use Flair airlines to head south this spring have been left scrambling after the ultra-low-cost carrier cancelled several routes.
Flair is suspending seasonal service earlier than expected to some U.S. destinations beginning Thursday, Feb. 28, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
Flair is ending flights to three places: Miami and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (near Tampa Bay) in Florida, and Palm Springs, California.
Flair said it will continue to fly from Winnipeg to Orlando unchanged, as well as between Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa in Arizona and Edmonton and Winnipeg, but with reduced frequency.
“We are in the process of contacting all affected passengers and providing them with full refunds or, for those who have already started their journey, alternative travel arrangements on other airlines,” spokesperson Iris Dias said.
The Edmonton-based airline said it entered an agreement with a third party airline to provide services to some US destinations, “to allow our people the time to train and prepare for the addition of our new aircraft type, the Boeing 737-800NG.”
Flair said that agreement was challenged by several external factors and disappointing passenger booking numbers did not deliver the results they had expected.
Analyst Marvin Ryder, a marketing professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., said these are growing pains that come with ultra-low-cost carriers — adding, as a young company, Flair is still testing to see what works and what does not.
“Expect the unexpected. Expect to suddenly hear they’re going to add routes; the next day they’re going to cut routes or they’re going to reduce the amount of service or changing the plane because they’re still experimenting.
“I just can’t state that enough: we are very much in the experimental mode.”
Watch below: One industry expert says to expect these ups and downs when booking with ultra low-cost carriers. Kendra Slugoski reports.
Ryder said he expects to see more of Flair testing routes and cancelling ones that don’t live up to expectation, adding the company can’t afford to keep running unprofitable flights just for the sake of keeping customers happy.
“In particular with Flair, it doesn’t have deep pockets. Swoop who’s the competitor, has WestJet — and well, WestJet’s got some pockets. They can run this trial a little longer. For Flair, if they’re not getting the pickup they need, they really got to cut their losses.”
Nikki Escaravage is learning just how much risk comes with taking advantage of a good deal. She and her two daughters were booked on a round-trip from Edmonton to Palm Springs, and left on Tuesday.
“It was a pretty good deal. I had known a few friends who had flown Flair air before and they had raved about it, so I thought I would take a chance and see if it worked for us.”
She arrived in southern California, only to be contacted by a friend who said the return flight to Edmonton next week had been cancelled. Escaravage said there was no notification on Flair’s website, and when she called was told the airline was re-structuring most of its flights to the U.S.
Escaravage said her flight was refunded but the airline didn’t offer to help with finding a new way home, so she booked with WestJet instead. She wishes Flair had done a better job of communicating.
“I’ve given you my money, I’m trying to have a nice time with my family and my flights are cancelled. You knew about it and didn’t tell me.”
“You should let your customers know.”
Ryder says the early days, or years, of a new ultra-low-cost carrier are like the “wild, wild west.”
“I always caution everyone who wants to book with a low-cost carrier: This is not the same as Air Canada, this is not the same as WestJet where you have a 50- or 60-year history of performance.”
He said many Canadians are willing to take the risk of sudden changes, if it means getting a great deal.
“We Canadians are just kind of learning what ultra-low-cost carriers are all about and here’s the good news — early indications are we like them and we are giving them our business,” Ryder said.
Flair said its Canadian flight network will be unaffected by the changes to its trans-border services.
The news comes one week after Flair unveiled a big re-branding, which includes green-and-black paint jobs on their planes and a new logo – with a lowercase “f” – as well as new crew uniforms and a new website.
The airline said the re-brand would “set the course for the airline’s next stages of growth.”
Flair said since it announced it was moving its headquarters to Edmonton last summer, it has increased its workforce by some 20 per cent to over 300 people, relocated to four floors of the office tower at Edmonton International Airport, introduced new international routes and welcomed the first Boeing 737-800 aircraft into its fleet.
It said four more are planned to arrive by the end of 2019.