Air travellers in Manitoba say they're keen to check out the deals being offered by NewLeaf Travel Company, which is advertising fares as low as $89 to select Canadian cities.
The no-frills air carrier, which describes itself as an "ultra-low-cost travel company," will offer non-stop flights from its main bases in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ont., and Kelowna, B.C., starting Feb. 12.
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NewLeaf's website, which went live shortly before officials announced schedules and fares on Wednesday, says one-way flights will start at $89, including taxes and fees.
"I think that's a really good price! I'm used to the high price," said Luc Marchildon, who was flying from Winnipeg to Calgary and Phoenix on Wednesday.
"I'll certainly look into it."
NewLeaf will have direct flights from Winnipeg to Abbotsford, B.C., Kelowna and Hamilton. The airline will also fly to Halifax, Regina and Saskatoon.
Introductory fares from Winnipeg to Kelowna or Hamilton will start at $99. Flights between the Manitoba capital and Abbotsford, which is near Vancouver, will start at $119.
The fares are for seats only, meaning there will be extra charges for various features and services. On-board snacks and drinks will cost extra, and checked luggage and carry-on bags that do not fit under seats will cost $25 each. There is also a fee for passengers who want priority boarding.
"Costs are going up all the time, so it would be kind of nice to have a little bit of a variety," said Peggy Lynch, who was flying to Vancouver on Wednesday.
"So if you want to pay a little bit less and … just maybe have a bit more [inconvenience] going to Abbotsford instead of Vancouver, that can be arranged."
Working on adding U.S. destinations
While NewLeaf's roster currently consists of Canadian cities, president and CEO Jim Young said the company is working on adding U.S. and sun destinations.
"We're looking at adding U.S. destinations later, in the later part of spring, and moving then through to the summer and next fall," he told reporters at the Winnipeg airport.
NewLeaf's flights will be operated by Kelowna-based Flair Airlines, which owns and operates a fleet of Boeing 737-400 airplanes.
Young said travellers will not find NewLeaf flights on third-party booking websites, which is one way the company is keeping costs low.
Passengers can book on NewLeaf's website or by calling 204-888-BOOK between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. CT seven days a week. There is a fee for booking by telephone.
Due to high volume, our website is experiencing difficulties. See our flight schedule and introductory fares here: https://t.co/ZnpG7P6edW— @newleaftravel
NewLeaf's fares are welcomed by traveller Kimberley Hartwig, who recalls flying in Europe for less compared to within Canada.
"I think it's a little bit ridiculous, the prices in Canada, so I would be very happy to see them go a little bit lower," said Hartwig, who was flying from Winnipeg to Saskatoon.
"It's a big country. It takes a long time to drive across, so having a cheaper option through the air, I think, would be really nice."
Myron Romaniuk, who was travelling to Phoenix for the winter, said airlines in Canada have to be competitive, especially given the number of online travel sites that compare airfares these days.
"Across the border you've got Allegiant Air, which we've used. No-frills airline — show up, get on your flight and go," he said.
"The dollar's really low now, so now people are going to look for the bargains, they're going to look for the deals. You can't just sit there [and say], 'Oh well' and pay the price. You got to shop. So stuff like this … it's welcomed, very much so."
Can new airlines survive?
While the arrival of no-frills, low-cost airlines may be good news for consumers, it remains to be seen if such startups will survive, said Barry Prentice, a professor at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.
"There's two sides. I mean, it's been successful in the past. We've certainly seen them start up and continue," he said.
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"The real question is can they be successful in the longer term? And the story on that has been much more mixed. Of course, we've seen a lot of airlines come and go."
Prentice said it's typical to see new airlines launch during recessions, partly because it's easier to obtain aircraft on lease and find pilots and crews.
However, he warned that it's not likely Canada can sustain multiple new airlines.
"Three airlines, typically that's been a difficult match for Canada, and it has to do with the nature of our market," he said.
"It's a very linear market. Everybody basically flies the same places, so it's very hard to separate yourself out from the others, and to get that kind of traffic you need for a third airline, let alone for a fourth and a fifth airline, I think that's very difficult."
However, Young said he believes NewLeaf will succeed where other low-cost airlines have not.
"There are many carriers that have failed, and that's because they may have necessarily not been pure to the actual ultra-low-cost business model," he said.
"You fly head-to-head against your largest competitor, you're standing to get yourself into some trouble."
Prentice said as startup airlines face competition from bigger carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet, they will have to establish a niche in smaller markets in order to survive.