With their new low-cost subsidiary, Swoop, connecting secondary markets, WestJet is able to focus on its joint venture with Delta – Photo: John Jamieson
Some Low-Cost Context
As far as I can remember, Canadians have complained about the cost of domestic air travel. Stuck in an increasingly permanent duopoly, Air Canada and WestJet have been without significant competition for the past 15 years. When JetsGo ceased operations in 2005, the domestic market was handed over to two carriers with little interest in changing the status quo. Moreover, with the ability to control prices and adjust capacity, Canada’s two flag carriers have been able to stifle their competition. Additionally, as a result of the duopoly, the barrier to entry for new market entrants has gone up significantly.
Part of the problem lies in Canada’s geography. With a population smaller than Tokyo spread over an area larger than the United States, it’s no wonder that airlines have struggled to succeed in Canada. While there is considerable traffic between the major urban areas (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal), there is very little flow between Canada’s smaller cities. This makes profitability a major struggle for new market entrants, especially when the major routes are dominated by Air Canada and WestJet.
Swoop offers its customers landside check-in; however, many passengers make use of their mobile app – Photo: John Jamieson
Start of the Transition
However, things may be about to change. Three carriers (Rouge, Flair, and Swoop) are currently offering low-fare travel options and a fourth, Canada Jetlines, is on the way. Each with their own identity, the three existing carriers have thus far managed to stay afloat in Canada’s notoriously turbulent market. But for how long? That remains to be seen. With low-cost travel finally taking off, it’s worth taking a closer look at how they’ve managed to attract and maintain business. We’ll be taking a look at their origins, cost structure, and the quirks which have kept them in business and, later in my story, I’ll be including my brief interview with Swoop President Steven Greenway.
My Frontier chariot arrives DEN – Photo: Kevin Horn
During the year 2016, my partner and were living 1,200 miles apart. We wanted to spend as much time together as possible without missing work or going bankrupt in the process. We needed to take advantage of every chance we came across to spend as much time together as we could. As it turned out, we learned very quickly the ups and downs of this jet-setting lifestyle through lots of flights on low- and ultra-low-cost carriers (LCC and ULCC, respectively). The ULCC business model is not without its share of controversy, but if they weren’t available for us, our year wouldn’t have been nearly as great as it turned out to be.
My partner Natalie and I met in early 2015 while I was stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I was nearing the end of my assignment to earn a Master’s degree with a follow-on assignment to Colorado Springs as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Natalie was in the middle of a five-year PhD in Clinical Psychology. Through shared passions for adventure and fitness, we hit it off immediately but we also knew that my move to Colorado would be tough. We started traveling to see each other in the fall of 2015, and developed a rhythm of visiting every three weeks or so. These visits were great and fueled both of our passions for travel and adventure. As winter came, we knew we wanted to spend even more time together despite being so far apart during the week.
Back and forth quite a bit – Image: GCMap
For the new year 2016, we set the ambitious goal of seeing each other every other weekend for the entire year. We had two major travel seasons coinciding with the spring and fall semesters of her program. We planned to spend the summer together which would provide a break from the hectic flight schedule and allow time for the bank account and credit card point balances to recharge. With the plan set, we went about attacking a personal travel schedule busier than either of us had ever done before.