New airline to fly Cape Breton’s friendly skies
WestJet Encore launches year-round daily service between Sydney and Halifax
Cape Bretoners now have another option when flying to Halifax and beyond with the introduction of WestJet Encore on Wednesday.
The airline formally introduced its new year-round Sydney-to-Halifax service in front of a mixed crowd of business people, politicians, passengers waiting for their flights, and family and friends seeing loved ones off.
WestJet Encore, a wholly owned subsidiary of WestJet, is a no-frills, 78-seat carrier.
Company CEO Ferio Pugliese said the move into Sydney was about giving people more options when booking a flight out of J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport.
“The competition I believe is in here five times a day. This community doesn’t have any other choices and fares are high,” Pugliese said.
He said it’s about bringing competition to new markets and having rival airlines such as Air Canada respond to their price point. WestJet Encore Sydneybound flights will leave Halifax every day at 12:35 p.m.; in Sydney, it’ll leave at 2 p.m. for Halifax Stanfield International.
When WestJet announced in January its intention to expand routes in Atlantic Canada, it offered an introductory fare of $119.20 for a one-way ticket from Sydney to Halifax.
However, buying a ticket the same day for that inaugural 2 p.m. flight to Halifax Wednesday cost $253.14
“As you get closer to your departure date in our business airfares do tend to rise. We try not to do that too much but you’ll see average fares in that $120 range. We want to make it affordable,” Pugliese told the Cape Breton Post.
To purchase a one-way ticket Wednesday on the Air Canada Jazz flight to Halifax, which left 20 minutes after the WestJet Encore flight, would cost $399.
The price for an Air Canada ticket then dropped considerably for the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday flight to Halifax, matching WestJet’s price of $253 for a one-way ticket.
A seat sale on WestJet Encore is expected later this month and into August. It will see one-way flights to Halifax as cheap as $136.
Many passengers preparing to board the inaugural WestJet flight to Halifax were making connections to other cities in the country.
James Rice of Sydney Mines was leaving on the flight to Halifax, on his way to visit his four grandchildren in Edmonton over the next 10 days.
“It’s a pretty good price actually. It wasn’t outrageous. I booked it awhile ago but it was a reasonable flight, reasonable price,” he said prior to entering security screening at the airport.
One frequent flyer, Kelly Steele, said she hoped the plane would have more legroom than Air Canada’s discount carrier, Rouge.
“My husband can sleep on any plane and he couldn’t even sleep, it was that uncomfortable,” she said.
Steele, who’s originally from Sydney but now lives in Moncton, N.B., was seeing family off at the airport Wednesday.
She said she couldn’t see herself taking WestJet Encore to Halifax unless she was grabbing a connecting flight there.
“I can’t afford it. It would be too much money for a return trip ( from Halifax). Say I drove there and flew home, I might consider that.”
The expanded service will no doubt attract the business traveller, Pugliese said. But WestJet’s target audience still remains the leisure travel market, he added.
“What we’ve tried to do with this service is the connection comes into Halifax and allows for connections in the same day to Ottawa, to Toronto, which will bring you into Western Canada, and even into St. John’s.
“It’s a variety of travellers but at this stage it’s still largely leisure travel.”
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke said the move by WestJet proves there are companies confident in the region’s economic prospects.
“When you see expanding job opportunities, when you see competition in our marketplace, and when you see fair ticket pricing and also the connectivity for personal and business travel, this is what brings it all together and makes it great for our community,” he said.
WestJet Encore’s Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft arrived at J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport on Wednesday afternoon to great fanfare. The Sydney-to-Halifax route will be a year-round daily service for the carrier.
WestJet Encore employees huddle around company CEO Ferio Pugliese, second from right, during a group photo op using a selfie stick to mark the start of the new Sydney-to-Halifax daily service Wednesday.