Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Canada’s “newest and friendliest” airline marks its commercial launch today (Sept. 22) with a new service linking Toronto and Calgary.
Canada Jetlines, an "all-Canadian, value-focused leisure carrier,” makes its official debut today with biweekly flights operating Thursdays and Sundays out of Toronto Pearson (YYZ) to Calgary International from 07:55am – 10:10am (EST), returning from Calgary to Toronto from 11:40am – 17:20 (EST).
Frequency will increase to three flights per week, Thursdays through Sundays, starting Oct. 13, the airline says.
The start-up airline based in Mississauga, ON, will hold a ribbon cutting event when its first flight lands in Calgary Thursday morning.
Canada Jetlines currently has just one Airbus A320, but a second plane is set to join the fleet in December, and there are plans to expand to 15 Airbus A320s by 2025 at a rate of five aircrafts per year.
Travel advisors get a taste
Last week, on Sept. 16, Canada Jetlines flew some 150 Canadian travel advisors to Calgary, from Toronto, to give the trade a sneak peak of its inflight service and taste of Calgary hospitality.
Speaking to PAX that day at Toronto’s Terminal 3, where Jetlines is based, Duncan Bureau, chief commercial officer, spoke of the important role travel advisors will play in the airline’s growth.
READ MORE: “This entire experience is for travel agents”: Canada Jetlines hosts first FAM for trade
“They are going to be why we’re successful,” Bureau said. “From the very outset, we’ve put our arms around travel agents. We think they’re an important distribution partner.”
Jetlines has already unveiled some tempting trade incentives.
All the agents who attended the FAM last week are eligible to win a free ticket for selling two round-trip tickets to Calgary from Sept. 18 to Oct. 31, 2022.
Other promos for advisors can be found on Jetlines’ travel agent page here.
Most notably, 174 agents have a chance to win free flights for life – to qualify and be entered into a draw, a travel agent must create a total of 10 bookings before Dec. 22.
The airline also recently announced a worldwide distribution agreement with software and technology company Sabre.
Focused on leisure
It’s a bold move to launch a new airline during a global pandemic, but Bureau says “there couldn’t have been a better time.”
“The reality is we were able to get access to great aircraft and find great talent,” he said. “The timing couldn’t have been better [and] the economics worked for us.”
Industry veteran and Canada Jetlines CEO Eddy Doyle says Jetlines is focused on the leisure market and will soon emphasize south service to the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean, especially during winter, once it receives a green light to do so.
“People haven't travelled for two years. It’s still cold in Canada and we all know [travellers] are going to want to fly down south,” Doyle told PAX.
Starting with domestic service to Calgary was strategic, Doyle explained.
“[Calgary] sees a lot of traffic and demand,” he said. “It’s a great leisure destination for people wanting to visit the National Park. People go in the winter to ski. It fits with our business model.”
Bob Sartor, CEO of the Calgary Airport Authority, said the Toronto-Calgary route is significant because there’s “a lot people who come from Eastern Canada, like I do originally, who have made Calgary home.”
There's demand for family and leisure travel, but Toronto and Calgary are also home to many corporate head offices, he said.
“There's a lot of business interconnectivity,” Sartor told PAX, “and what's interesting is that Jetlines is proposing a kind of product that might appeal to some people who would normally fly business.”
Jetlines received its air operating certificate (AOC) from Transport Canada in August and has an application pending with U.S. regulators, which Doyle is expecting to be approved by mid-October.
Addressing travel advisors last week at the Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel, Mr. Doyle noted the importance of developing a product that offers high-level service.
“What will make a customer want to come back and fly with us again will [depend on] the experience they have,” he said.
A key part of the strategy was ensuring that passengers have a lot of leg room on board.
The carrier’s single-aisle 174-seat A320 is 12 years old (which is considered mid-life for an aircraft), but the interior is brand new with 18-inch-wide seats.
They didn’t pack the plane with as many seats as possible either, which is why customers will notice a generous seat pitch, allowing extra space for the knees.
“The airplane we have is as close to brand new as you could possibly get,” Brad Warren, chief operating officer and vice-president of maintenance, told PAX.
Ensuring a positive customer experience has been a priority from the get-go, Warren explained.
“I think it’s lacking in most airlines. And that's the unfortunate thing,” he said. “Everybody looks at their bottom line. They look at revenue. But they forget about the customer, which is where the bottom line comes from. So, in our eyes, it starts right with customer service.”
Canada Jetlines partnered with tech company Moment to activate its wireless inflight service.
Passengers, for example, can access flight maps, menus and movies on their personal devices by connecting to the plane’s Wi-Fi system and scanning a tiny QR code located on the back of their tray tables.
“The best thing about this system is that we’re able to stream new movies and content immediately,” Warren said.
All food and alcohol (including non-alcoholic beverages) served on Canada Jetlines will be available for purchase.
The food offered during last week’s preview flight included sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches and cheese pizza.
Additionally, the airline will serve pre-mixed cocktails produced by Minhas Breweries that will be branded as Jetlines.
The airline was initially going to offer service to Moncton, New Brunswick and Winnipeg during the summer, but those plans got delayed as the carrier awaited regulatory approval from Transport Canada.
“Which is totally OK,” Bureau said. “A much larger market for us is Toronto-Calgary, so we’re going to start there. But we are definitely going to fly to Moncton and Winnipeg. Those are also two very important markets for us."
The team, at this point, is just eager to introduce Canada's newest carrier to the market.
“It’s a huge effort to build an airline,” Warren said. “But now that it is built, the fun stuff starts to happen.”
Stay tuned for PAX’s video report from Canada Jetlines’ preview flight for Canadian travel advisors!
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