Changes in the air among Cana­dian air­lines

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL -

PER­HAPS it is be­cause air­line is­sues have been in the news a great deal of late that so many ques­tions have come to me about where this in­dus­try is go­ing.

It is also note­wor­thy, not­with­stand­ing the big­gest of merg­ers in the works south of the bor­der, our own car­ri­ers are se­ri­ously look­ing at cre­at­ing a more-com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment in our own coun­try.

This can only be good for con­sumers. Once all their plans ma­te­ri­al­ize, I have no doubt they will have an in­flu­ence on keep­ing prices in check.

QUES­TION: I took my first short­du­ra­tion flight from Toronto to Ottawa a while back on Porter Air­lines.

If their ser­vice on that flight was any in­di­ca­tion, they seem to be an ex­cep­tional air­line. What are the chances we will ever see them serv­ing the Manitoba mar­ket.

AN­SWER: We don’t hear much about them here, but they re­ally have made ma­jor in­roads in East­ern Canada, con­sid­er­ing the lim­ited num­ber of years they have been in busi­ness.

I have of­ten com­pared them to WestJet Air­lines Ltd., in the sense they seemed to have evolved out of a strate­gic plan of growth and a com­mit­ment to be dif­fer­ent from other com­peti­tors.

All of their air­craft to date have been Bom­bardier Q400’s. While they based their growth on serv­ing East­ern Canada and a num­ber of east­ern des­ti­na­tions in the U.S., they car­ried more than two and a half mil­lion pas­sen­gers last year.

When they launched in 2007, they car­ried 300,000 pas­sen­gers. Just this month it was an­nounced they had reached the 10 mil­lion flyer mark dur­ing their life­span.

They are now in the process of adding CS100’s to their fleet, also from Bom­bardier.

Over the com­ing years they plan to add Winnipeg as one of their new des­ti­na­tions, but that may be as far away as 2016. As a part of their plan­ning they in­clude most of the ma­jor cities in Western Canada, but also be­lieve they will be able to strongly com­pete south of the bor­der in Cal­i­for­nia and Florida and in the Caribbean as well.

If they fly to the Caribbean, I be­lieve it is al­most cer­tain they will es­tab­lish a par­al­lel tour op­er­a­tor pro­gram to serve those mar­kets as well.

The air­line has not been short on con­tro­versy. Fly­ing out of the air­port on Toronto Is­land, many have fought their ex­pan­sion, be­liev­ing they are harm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment in any num­ber of ways with their prox­im­ity to the city.

Short-haul com­muters, on the other hand, have loved the con­ve­nience.

We may have to wait, but from any­one I have talked to about this car­rier, the wait may be well worth it.

QUES­TION: Over the past cou­ple of years it seems there has been al­most an an­nounce­ment ev­ery cou­ple of months about a new code-share agree­ment be­tween WestJet and other in­ter­na­tional air­lines. Have they been put in place, and can they be ac­cessed out of Manitoba for over­seas va­ca­tions?

AN­SWER: As fre­quent trav­ellers know, be­ing able to book a sin­gle ticket for an over­seas flight even though they may fly with more than one air­line to get there is both com­mon­place and im­por­tant.

WestJet rec­og­nized this a few years ago and be­gan an ac­tive pur­suit of air­lines that would be will­ing to work with them on code-shares.

A code-share as de­fined by air­lines is the abil­ity for mul­ti­ple air­lines to sell space on the same flight as though it was their flight. This sounds easy in prin­ci­ple, but re­quires ex­pen­sive com­puter in­te­gra­tion and sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion to de­tail in trans­fer­ring bag­gage and pas­sen­gers. Once WestJet made the com­mit­ment to change, it went for the big­gest and the best.

To­day, WestJet Air­lines has code-share agree­ments with at least 10 ma­jor world car­ri­ers in­clud­ing Bri­tish Air­ways, Delta Air­lines, Ja­pan Air­lines, KLM, Amer­i­can Air­lines and Air France.

In fact, only a cou­ple of weeks ago Air France, with its French tourism part­ners, held their sec­ond an­nual travel agency promotional event in Winnipeg. They clearly un­der­scored one of the ma­jor rea­sons for that de­ci­sion last year was be­cause they be­lieve they can be­come com­pet­i­tive in car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers not only from Winnipeg to France but to the mul­ti­tude of other des­ti­na­tions they serve via their Charles De Gaulle hub in Paris.

While WestJet has con­cen­trated on code-share agree­ments, they have re­cently also added a new wrin­kle to their com­pet­i­tive edge.

They have an­nounced a non-stop flight from Canada to Dublin via St. John’s, NL. While for Man­i­to­bans this will mean two stops to Europe, their pric­ing may make the slight in­con­ve­nience be­come sud­denly at­trac­tive.

QUES­TION: In the world of big is bet­ter, can you tell me what the lat­est is in the Amer­i­can Air­lines/US Air­ways merger?

AN­SWER: The U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment was where the holdup was ini­tially. That is no longer the case, and af­ter an agree­ment for the two air­lines to cut back on some of their ser­vices to Amer­ica’s big­ger cities, it is now full steam ahead for the merger.

In­ter­est­ingly, while some con­sumer groups op­posed the merger, Al­le­giant Air­lines, who are drain­ing so many pas­sen­gers from our own air­port, have fully sup­ported the merger, be­liev­ing it will give them greater ac­cess to ex­pand their net­work over the com­ing years. For­ward your travel ques­tions to askjour­neys@jour­neystravel.com. Ron Prad­inuk is pres­i­dent of Jour­neys Travel & Leisure Su­per­Centre and can be heard Sun­days at noon on CJOB. Pre­vi­ous col­umns and tips can be found at www.jour­neystrav­el­gear.com and at www.that­trav­el­guy.ca.

Cana­dian air­lines like WestJet are cre­at­ing a more-com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment.

RON PRAD­INUK ASK JOUR­NEYS

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