Travellers from Manitoba and the United Kingdom can soon go across the pond with WestJet's new non-stop flights between Winnipeg and London, England, starting next spring.
Fares will start at $279, including taxes and surcharges. But there's a catch for that price — it's just an introductory rate, so you have to book before 12:59 a.m. CT on Thursday for travel between May 6 and June 28.
Prices go up to $325 after that. The price of a ticket from London to Winnipeg is £214 ($435 CDN).
WestJet executives hosted a "high tea" at the Fairmont Hotel on Tuesday morning to announce the new route, which will be offered once a week and land at Gatwick Airport, located about 45 kilometres south of central London.
"Winnipeg has been a very important city for us for many years, we've served it well and we think it's time," said Rocky Wiggins, an executive vice-president with the Calgary-based airline.
"We've got enough growth here that we think the demand is there."
The flights out of Winnipeg will be once a week on Saturday evenings, returning on Sunday afternoons. That's a popular time slot for international travellers, according to Wiggins.
The direct flight, which will start May 7, 2016, will also be offered from five other Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and St. John's.
London is WestJet's first transatlantic destination for its wide-body Boeing 767 aircraft
Wiggins said the airline chose Gatwick because London's other international airport, Heathrow, charges more for inbound and outbound flights.
"We look at the kind of markets we're going after, where we think our travellers want to go," he said.
"We're all about value and providing low fares, so we think the best opportunity for us to do that — and to sustain it — is going to be Gatwick."
Connie Cox, who was at the Winnipeg airport with her husband on Tuesday, heading to London to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and visit family in the U.K., said she's very excited about WestJet's direct route.
That's even though Heathrow would be more convenient, since her family lives closer to the U.K.'s busiest airport.
"I think its wonderful. We go every year, so this means we're going to go more often," she said.
Local tourism consultant Max Johnson said the new route is good news for Winnipeg, as WestJet is a reliable airline that will likely stick around for as long as the demand is there.
"WestJet coming into the picture offers the stability that this Winnipeg-London connection really needed for a long time," Johnson said.
Could boost number of U.K. visitors: Travel Manitoba
While news of the Winnipeg-Gatwick route is good news for Manitoba travellers, it's also expected to boost the number of visitors coming to the province from the United Kingdom, according to Travel Manitoba.
Figures from 2012 — the most recent numbers available — indicate that about 15,000 visitors from the U.K. come to Manitoba every year, injecting an estimated $7.7 million into the economy, said Colin Ferguson, Travel Manitoba's president and CEO.
Ferguson added that visitors from the U.K. are, on average, around 50 years old and stay approximately nine nights in the province.
In light of the new direct flights, Travel Manitoba will likely boost its advertising in the United Kingdom to promote the province even more, he added.
WestJet to save with fuel tax rebate
WestJet will benefit from a fuel tax rebate that the Manitoba government introduced earlier this year to attract airlines to offer non-stop international passenger flights.
The rebate, which came into effect July 1, saves airlines 3.2 cents a litre on jet fuel purchases made in Manitoba if they fly direct to destinations outside North America.
The Winnipeg-Gatwick route means WestJet will receive a rebate of about $5,000 per flight, according to the Winnipeg Airports Authority.
Johnson said even with the rebate, the local economy will still benefit.
"Landing handling fees alone at Winnipeg airport will be a large multiple of that," he said. And travellers will save hundreds of dollars on the low fares and time, he added.
Johnson said many travellers who already come to Manitoba to take international flights will benefit from WestJet's direct route to London.
Thousands of people already travel from Winnipeg to the United Kingdom every year, he said, and now they can do so without connecting through Toronto.
"I think for the first time in a long time, we've seen an entry into the market that makes fantastic sense," he said. "If it only costs us $5,000 a flight, that's a bargain."