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More affordable air travel requires disruption: Opinion

A new model is emerging worldwide that promises to revolutionize air travel in Canada

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Air travel is no longer fun. It’s time to change that. In a world of shrinking route choice, hub-and-spoke service, fewer direct flights and ever-increasing airfares, it’s no wonder recent polls show that more than half of Canadians are frustrated with an air travel status quo that is being pushed by only two major airlines is dominated . Or that an overwhelming majority – 82 percent – say it’s just too expensive to fly these days.

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Before the pandemic, the two airlines controlled over 80 percent of domestic seating. Canada had some of the most expensive airfares in the world, ranking 130th out of 138 countries for average airfares. Canadians can do more than pay twice the price Americans pay for domestic flights of a similar distance. Add the pressure of rising inflation, and for many of us, air travel seems even more out of reach.

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But there is a new model emerging in air travel around the world that has had success elsewhere and promises to revolutionize air travel in Canada. And if any country needs a solution to make air travel work, it’s the vast semi-continent we call Canada, with our relatively sparse population stretching along a narrow east-west band.

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‘Low cost carriers’ have revolutionized air travel in the European Union and UK and we can learn from this experience. Imagine if air travel wasn’t a hassle of luxury, but more like boarding a greyhound (more important now that there’s no greyhound!): easy to book, no hassle, easy check-in and no costly “extras”. .”

Only fly with a backpack at the weekend? No problem – you save money. Don’t want a “free” pretzel snack? You don’t have to pay for it. Don’t you care where you sit? Save again. These little things add up and can help make travel affordable again. Affordable even under a hundred dollars.

Europe’s low-cost carrier pioneers had a clever formula: a single-aircraft fleet to simplify training and maintenance; Abolition of “free” meals and all infrastructure required for them; ditto the expensive airport lounges; really focus on the logistics; and working with a non-union workforce, making them more nimble and flexible. It revolutionized travel.

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Flair has been in Canada since 2005, but it’s really been our last five years of aggressive redesign that mattered. We mimicked and Canadianized this European disruption formula and were instantly catapulted to #3 in Canada. The two major airlines have fallen from over 80 percent market share to 69 percent over the past two years. There is clearly a desire among Canadian consumers to fly differently.

The first lessons: It doesn’t have to cost more to visit your mother in Halifax than it does to fly to Europe. And there’s a viable alternative to the industry’s general hub-and-spoke rule that “if you want to get there, you’ve got to go through Toronto or Calgary first.”

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The fact is, diversifying locations not only offers more choices for travelers; it also lowers costs. “Airport improvement fees” typically range from $30 to $35 per passenger at Canada’s major hub airports. This fee is obviously passed on to consumers as a higher fare.

While other airlines’ economic model sees them retreat We hail from Western Canada, the Maritimes and various locations in Ontario extend. Last week we introduced three new routes – Kitchener/Waterloo to Abbotsford, Ottawa to Thunder Bay and Toronto to Kelowna. Everything direct. Everything cheap. And there will be more.

Are there more public policy bugbears we should be thinking about? Yes. For example, it’s time we got serious about policies preventing foreign airlines from carrying passengers between two places in Canada, a piece of protectionism that discourages cross-border competition. Tackling this problem in Europe turned the industry on its head and helped make air travel consumer-centric again.

While it might be unassuming to say that the emergence of a third national carrier with a keen focus on reducing the cost of air travel by doing things differently is a great first step in bringing Canada to the same destination . Students should be able to afford to see Mom for her birthday or spend Memorial Day with Grandpa. And Canada is seeing the first disruptive steps to make this a reality.

Stephen Jones is President and CEO of Flair Airlines.

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