Norwegian Air is counting on the U.S. catch market, namely, travellers closer to the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls—in order to position itself as a competitive option for North Americans looking to visit Europe on a budget.
With new year-round direct flights to Dublin, Ireland, from Hamilton International Airport launching March 31, 2019, Norwegian will be the first LCC (low cost carrier) in Canada to offer cheap flights to Europe, allowing travellers to pay for only what they need, or want to use on board. Neither Swoop, Canada's ultra low-cost carrier (ULCC) or Flair Airlines, Canada's newest LCC, offer direct service into Europe.
"Hamilton is well-suited to low-cost carriers like Norwegian because as a secondary airport, we have a low-cost infrastructure, and that makes us very efficient in turning airplanes around, which is what low-cost airlines look for," said Dina Carlucci, director, marketing & communications, Hamilton International Airport. "We've been hosting more and more low-cost carriers, and Hamilton is becoming a bit of a magnet for that type of product."
The arrival of Norwegian's direct service to Dublin marks the first transatlantic service out of Hamilton International Airport in the last 10 years. That alone puts the LCC in a position to attract significant attention, despite competitor airlines like Aer Lingus introducing new direct service to Dublin from Montreal and Toronto out of Toronto Pearson International Airport.
While Swoop operates domestically and has opened up routes to the U.S. and Caribbean, no LCC's have touched Europe yet.
"We very much welcome the new transatlantic service from Norwegian that our customers have been asking for, for quite some time," Carlucci said.
Dana Welch, manager, Canada, Tourism Ireland, added:
"We're very delighted to have the access as a new origin in Canada, and it really expands the opportunities for travellers within the GTA and beyond into Ireland. The new service starts early in the season, which is great for Dublin, when there's lots of activity like great festivals, for travellers to experience.
In 2017, Hamilton International Airport reported unprecedented growth, seeing arrivals spike by 80 per cent, accredited directly to the LCC movement. According to Carlucci, Hamilton sees load factors in the 90 percentile range, and predicts closing the year with just north of 725,000 passengers, with 2019 looking even stronger.
What's the catch?
For Norwegian, entering the Canadian market has been a completely different experience from entering the U.S. market.
"The catchment area is very key, because looking at the bookings, more than 40 per cent come from Canada, but 25 per cent come from the U.S.," Anders Lindstrom, director of communications, North America, Norwegian, told PAX. "With Hamilton, it has the Toronto, Ontario crowd, but it also has Niagara Falls and surrounding regions, and we're seeing a lot of interest there."
Statistically speaking, there are nine million people living within a two-hour drive radius from the Hamilton International Airport.
The new service from Hamilton to Dublin will be operated on a single-aisle, 189-seat Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, as Lindstrom says, "a medium-sized aircraft for a medium-sized airport." The choice of aircraft was purposely selected to be better-suited for both the airport and the catchment area.
"In the U.S. we've launched new markets, but going into Canada, which is a much tougher aviation market, what we've done is instead of trying to find a new route is to enter markets where we know we have the ability to be very competitive and very successful," Lindstrom said.
Get onboard with Norwegian
With a 6.5-hour flight ahead of them to Dublin, passengers on board Norwegian's first flight to Ireland can expect a comfortable experience that stands out.
Unlike the majority of airlines which insist on passengers downloading apps, or paying up front, Norwegian offers free Wi-Fi to all of its guests— and that's not limited to one device, either. Norwegian was the first airline in Europe to introduce free Wi-Fi on board, and it's a practice the company is sure will be a hit with Canadians, especially business travellers looking to maximize their travel time, or those flying with small children.
According to Lindstrom, the competitive fares that Norwegian is able to offer are truly the difference.
"This is the latest fare data I have, showing $209 CAD one-way from Hamilton International Airport into Dublin for April and May availability, and in June and July you have the availability for $279 CAD each way," Lindstrom said. "With us, you pay for what you want, and that's really the success to low-cost carrier growth. "With other airlines, you have a tendency to pay for what other people might want. "We're making Dublin a bit of a hub with this new MAX operation, and these flights will connect to Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki as well, and there will be more in-destination connections in the future."