The Case For Flair Airlines – The Need For Canada’s Ultra Low-Cost Carriers

Flair Airlines During COVID Reopening – Extra Legroom and Front of Cabin Seats
Flight Segment: YYJ-YOW Round-Trip
Aircraft Flown: Boeing 737Max8 (C-FFLZ)
Distance Travelled: 7,142 kilometers roundtrip (4,464 miles)
Cost: $1,593.48 for all 4 tickets, including 2 carry on bags and seat selection. Only $0.06/km each!

Back for another flight review, and our first flight since travelling to Mexico back in March. I was extra excited about this trip because I had booked it and kept it as a surprise trip for the family; I told Alyssa about the trip a week before we left. The kids literally found out at the airport!

Now, I meant to put this blog up way sooner than Spring 2023, but you know life happens. As an avid traveler, I want to travel and post as much as I can; but as a nurse and father, well, I will post as often as time permits, I promise!

If you aren’t aware, Flair went through some drama in 2022 about whether they were Canadian enough to operate in Canada, and when the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled in favour of the airline on June 1, 2022, I immediately jumped on and booked the tickets.

Considering the latest drama of four of Flair’s jets being very publicly repossessed, I felt compelled to post this as there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about Flair’s role within the Canadian aviation industry. This would be our very first flight on Edmonton-based ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Flair Airlines. Our previous experience with ULCC’s here in Canada has been on Swoop, WestJet’s lost cost subsidiary. Back in 2020, it was fine, although the hours long delays on flights home, on two occasions, really left a sour taste in my mouth. Flair’s non-stop flight from Victoria to Ottawa at the time of booking happens twice weekly and fit perfectly for an extended weekend in Canada’s capital.

So here’s a review of our trip to Ottawa onboard Flair Airlines for the August long weekend in 2022, and I’ll share some thoughts on why Flair and other ULCC’s are so important to the Canadian aviation industry.

Before Boarding

Maddy relaxed and ready for our 4+ hour hop to Ottawa (YOW)

Booking the flight on Flair’s website was easy and straightforward. Flair offers point-to-point bookings, and any connections must be booked separately. One thing I’ve noted playing around with their website, there is no discount or advantage to book round-trip routing. Indeed, if it works to your advantage, it likely gives you more flexibility to book two one-way segments just in case. In terms of pricing, as you see above, I paid a total of $1,593 round-trip for all 4 of us as a round trip booking. When you break it down, the 7,142km trip cost per person was a mere 5.6 CENTS per kilometer from Victoria to Ottawa return!

The booking process was easy, but watch for upsells for bundles, if you don’t need most of those things included and you’ll find better value grabbing add-ons individually. Things seemed to fall apart from the customer service experience after booking. A company that relies heavily on automation/electronic service, they really need to invest in more communication and customer agent training. Days before the flight, they did an equipment change, which happens, no problem. However, this swap booted out my seat selection, but when I went back in to select my seats, the system charged me a second time. After 2 frustrating hour-long attempts to get through to Flair on their chat bot, I ended up calling in and after another frustrating 2 hour wait, got a refund on my double charged seats.

The biggest frustration was the agent was making me prove I had paid twice, which I had all the receipts for. In the end, she sent me a confirmation of the refund, the summary showed the double charge. In other words, she could see the double charge the whole time but wanted to make sure I’d go through the process for the refund, like how insurance companies drag out claims hoping you’ll walk away from the process, shameful! Check-in was nice and easy. Keep in mind, they charge you $15 per person if you want to check in at the counter at the airport, so make sure you’re set up to check-in online. Pro-tip, screenshot your boarding passes once you have them as the Flair app is also riddled with bugs. The check-in counters at the airport were quite busy, we just had Jacob’s car seat to gate check, and they told us we could get it tagged at the gate too.

Flight experience – YYJ to YOW

For this flight, I selected extra-legroom seats to make the 5-hour flight more comfortable, more for me then the others, of course. Our plane today was a 2-year-old Boeing 737 Max 8 (Reg C-FFLZ). Flair allows passengers flying with children under 12 to board with priority boarding, we quickly stowed our carry on and found our seats in 3 and 4 E/F. The Flair 737Max overhead bins are different than other carriers though, being a little smaller, roller cases can’t fit in on their side like the WestJet and Air Canada overhead bins. The crew member who told me this was rather rude, but I quickly brushed this off and looked forward to how the flight would go. The legroom was amazing, if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say we had about 35-36 inches of pitch. The seats are a comfortable fabric rather the pleather of other airlines *ahem, WestJet*. I know WestJet will claim it’s easier to clean, but this aircraft was clean and in good shape.

Flair doesn’t advertise what the legroom is even in the standard seats, but the extra legroom was fantastic. Keep in mind for evening flights, Flair’s seats do not recline at all! Zero. Which some may appreciate and prefer. There are also no headrests or anything. I did bring a travel pillow but that was poached by my amazing daughter who fit the seat like sitting on a throne!

Amazing views of the beautiful south coast on takeoff from YYJ.

We boarded just a few minutes late, but soon after, the captain came on and let us know we’d be about 30-mintues delayed due to a technical issue that flight engineers were just correcting. We pushed back at about 20-minutes late, but sat on the tarmac for about 10-minutes, when the captain came back on and informed us, we unfortunately had to return to the gate as the problem wasn’t yet corrected. Better safe than sorry, and I appreciated the honesty. We ended up taking off just over an hour late.

The flight itself was fine, the crew were quite friendly and came around a couple times with the buy-on-board service. Of note, this is an ULCC after all, there is nothing included with the service, including water. We were prepared and had our own water and snacks. We wanted a light dinner on board and the menu items aren’t too horribly priced, you can combo a couple items for a small discount too, but they unfortunately had no pizzas, so we had to make do with a couple of vegetable Mr. Noodles. We bought the last two (a few rows back I heard the FA mention they were out) and shared with the kids. Turns out, Flair doesn’t reload the galley in Victoria, so they sold most of their buy-on-board products on the flight to Victoria. Not the best approach for an airline that relies on ancillary revenue to turn a profit.

The kids were a bit hungry but got by with the trail mix and other snacks we had packed. There are no special touches for the kids, activity kits, etc. They had their backpacks with them and kept busy with their tablets and toys they brought. Jacob slept for a bit as well. One of the best things about flying with younger children is with the armrest up, we parents get a bit more elbow room. This was nice considering Alyssa’s aisle seat mate was rather intrusive on the armrest space. We always give them the window seat but it’s easy enough for me to peer over them, for now anyways.

Flair is slowly getting their app-based inflight entertainment up and running and is available on some flights, but alas, there was nothing available on one of their longest transcontinental flights. We were also prepared for this, with lots of downloaded games and videos. Despite this, the evening flight felt much longer than the just over 5 hours allotted. We landed and disembarked from the plane at just before 1am Ottawa local time.

Our nation’s capital, Ottawa, lit up for a night landing into YOW.

The Return – YOW to YYJ

Guess what? For our return flight, the same thing happened as on the outbound. When I booked the tickets, we were scheduled on a Boeing 737-800, but again we were swapped to a Boeing 737-8 Max. While both aircraft are identical in size, the Max 8 has extra legroom seats down the ride side for the first several rows. Again, our prepaid seats were kicked out and I had to spend another 2 hours on the phone with Flair customer service to correct this error and reselect seats. The agent promised a refund on the seat selection for this time spent, but it never did come.

Standard legroom in row 9 of Flair’s 737-8Max. Like some airlines, Flair avoids labelling the -8Max as a 737Max.

We spent about an hour at the Aspire Lounge which was lovely. Don’t be kidding, Flair definitely doesn’t include lounge access. We got in with our Amex Platinum Card and it was a nice way to relax and enjoy a drink and a meal before the flight. The staff were friendly and attentive, the food selection was okay for a small lounge, the drinks were good and self-serve, and it was a nice, quiet place to relax with the kids while we waited to board. There were even decent apron views but for a smaller airport, there wasn’t much to spot. Considering we wouldn’t have any food on the flight, it was nice to be able to grab a bite and some beverages before boarding our return flight to Victoria.

The flight back was considerably more comfortable, I had chosen seats that appeared to have an empty aisle seat and continued to look up until check-in, and we lucked out with having two entire rows to ourselves, 9 and 10 A and B (as well as C!). This made for a very comfortable flight home, and Jacob got his first experience at a lie flat seat for a nap! Lucky kid considering the seats don’t recline.

The flight was perfectly on time, we started boarding about 10 minutes earlier than expected and pushed back right on schedule. I mean, given all the travel chaos that marked summer 2022, this was completely standard. However, on arrival at Victoria International, an outbound Flair flight to Toronto was quite behind schedule, and so we had to sit on the tarmac for 30 minutes to wait for the gate to become available as there wasn’t enough ground crew to handle both flights concurrently.

View of the wing and engine on take off from YOW, as seen from seat 9A.

The crew on the flight was mostly the same as our outbound flight, a couple flight attendants were different. As we boarded, the cockpit door was open, and the crew let the kids have a look inside which they loved. We did purchase 2 pizza combos on this flight, the buy-on-board service was fully stocked flying out of Ottawa confirming my suspicions they don’t restock in Victoria. The pizzas reminded me of the 90’s personal pizzas that McDonald’s used to sell and were decent for the price. Alyssa and I enjoyed the pop that came with the combo.  

With an entire row to ourselves, this lucky little man got a lie flat nap, still safely buckled in of course!

Final Thoughts

Flair and Swoop have abysmal ratings, like worst airlines in Canada bad. You’d think they’re the worst in the world reading through reviews. Canadians however, aren’t used to the likes of SouthWest and Ryan Airlines. These airlines play a significant role in connecting smaller cities, and lowering airfares in one of the most expensive markets in the world. By comparison, return airfare on Canada’s “big two” for this trip was $3200 plus, or approximately double the cost with stops, and for a 3-night trip I would not have done it. What Flair, Swoop, and now Lynx are doing is allowing Canadians new travel connections, new, affordable opportunities to explore our own country or new places. This is also opening a segment of the population that would want to travel but can’t afford the big 2.

Aside from my issues with customer service rectifying the double charge for seat selection, it was a good experience. My suggestion is to call in and speak directly with customer service if you need something dealt with, the online chat agents were just awful.

Flair doesn’t make a lot of money from the base seats you pay for. So, their job is to sell as many add-ons as possible, and that is where they make money, this is known as unbundled fares. If you are savvy enough, you can get away with the barebones costs which can make for quite an affordable weekend getaway to say Las Vegas, or Edmonton! Some people will pay double or triple the price just to avoid Flair, but you’re still paying for an unbundled experience, at least domestically. On “full-service” or “hybrid service” Air Canada and WestJet respectfully, you’re still paying for snacks and seats. Is that price tag worth it to bring a carry-on for free? Let’s not even bring up lost checked luggage…

However, Canadian aviation is cutthroat and has had lots of casualties, the unfortunate reality is that Canada can most likely only support one of two of the ULCC’s on top of the legacy carriers. I do wish and hope for the best for Flair though. Would I fly them again? Well, we already did, on a trip to Edmonton in September, and we got to experience the 737 Max again. I really enjoyed the passenger experience on the Max and felt completely safe. One of the biggest risks of ULCC’s is with smaller fleets and less frequency, rebooking can be a significant challenge when there is a cancellation, and we’ve seen that numerous times now, but that’s not to say AC and WJ have been immune to significant network problems.

Stay tuned for my flight review of our flight to Edmonton. Stay tuned and thanks for reading! Please follow my blog for more family travel reviews. Have you flown on Flair? Leave a comment on your experience.


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