Calgary

WestJet's Swoop set to scoop air travellers looking for low ticket prices

WestJet's low-cost carrier will be headquartered in Calgary, creating about 50 jobs, company says

WestJet Swoop

Swoop, the ultra-low-cost carrier launched by WestJet, will begin operations in early 2018. (WestJet)

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​Swoop — WestJet's low-cost carrier set to launch in June 2018 — will get travellers into seats for cheap prices, but expect to pay for any extras.

"You are paying for a seat so, flexibility, convenience, comfort features, if you want extra legroom and so forth, it is unbundled, you'll be paying for those extras," Bob Cummings, WestJet's executive vice-president of strategy, said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the new name and other details of the discount carrier.

"However, we'll be making it extremely easy up front and communicating very clearly with respect to paying for the extras and buying those at point of sale. Whatever you choose to add beyond the seat, that's your choice."

Other extras travellers will have to pay for include things like checking baggage, being able to board first and choosing a seat.

When it does start, Swoop will join other low-cost carriers in the Canadian market, including existing carriers Enerjet and Flair Air (formerly NewLeaf) and Jetlines, which aims to launch next year.

Cummings said Swoop's model will be similar to ultra-low cost carriers in the U.S. and should create about 50 jobs.

Bob Cummings WestJet Swoop

Bob Cummings, WestJet’s executive vice-president of strategy, says the low-cost carrier, Swoop, will begin operating in June 2018. (Brooks DeCillia/CBC)

"Their fares are, on average, about 50 per cent lower than the fares for the Canadian mainline carriers," he said. "That's pretty indicative of what we'll be aiming for."

WestJet says Swoop will have six Boeing 737-800 airplanes flying at first — and it plans to expand to 10 planes in the first year. Independent airline industry analyst Rick Erickson doesn't think that's enough for Swoop to spark a huge drop in airline prices in Canada.

"Remember this ultra-low cost airline is only going to work in high density markets," he said. "So, you can do the largest city pairs and there's only about seven or eight of them in the country."

Destinations unknown

Cummings was tight-lipped about exactly where the airline intends to fly, but travellers can expect most flights to originate in southern British Columbia and Ontario.

"It's a 189-seat aircraft, it does need some population density," he said.

"Southern Ontario has 8.5 million people, southern B.C. has 2.5 million people. We'll be looking at secondary airports and we're working with airports across Canada."

But a consumer advocate worries airline service could suffer as airlines offer a cheaper alternative. Passengers' rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says it may be an attempt to import what he calls a U.S. level of arrogance and disrespect that airlines display towards passengers.

"I'm concerned that this may be a race to the bottom," said Lukacs.

He advises passengers to add up all the extra costs for baggage and services to ensure they are actually getting a deal when Swoop starts flying next year.

Tickets for Swoop go on sale in February 2018.

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