By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
CALGARY — Edmonton-based discount carrier Flair Airlines is expanding yet again, this time launching service to Mexico.
Flair — which bills itself as an ultra-low-cost carrier offering unbundled, bare-bones fares to budget-conscious travellers — announced Tuesday it will begin non-stop flights this winter to Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico, from Vancouver, Abbotsford, Edmonton, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Expanding internationally is really something that’s core to our growth strategy moving forward,” said Garth Lund, Flair’s chief commercial officer, in an interview. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity to bring low fares to a lot of destinations … for next winter, we’ll be looking to expand probably into other places in Mexico, and into the Caribbean.”
The Mexico routes are just the latest strategic move from an airline that has been in aggressive expansion mode over the last 12 months. Flair has announced 18 new destinations since the beginning of 2021, including the start of service this spring to new U.S. destinations like San Francisco, Nashville and Denver and Canadian destinations including Comox, B.C., Regina, Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.
Including the newly announced Mexico routes, Flair’s network now includes 31 destinations.
Flair has taken advantage of the downturn in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, negotiating favourable lease terms for brand-new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and scooping up pilots and flight attendants who have been laid off by other airlines.
“We started the year with three aircraft, we’ll end with 12, by the end of next year we’ll have 20,” Lund said. “And we’ll keep growing beyond that.”
Lund acknowledged the uncertain trajectory of the pandemic has made forecasting future travel demand challenging. But he said Flair is optimistic, given the pace of recent bookings.
“The vaccine mandate for travel has given people a lot of confidence to get back out travelling … We’re seeing a lot of demand for Christmas and people booking out into the first quarter of next year,” he said.
The ultra-low-cost carrier model — whereby passengers pay a low base fare and then pay extra for add-ons like checked bags, cancellations and changes, and seat selection — has taken off in Europe and the U.S., but remains less common in Canada. Only Flair and WestJet subsidiary Swoop currently operate in the space, though Calgary-based Enerjet and Vancouver-based CanadaJetlines have both indicated their intent to launch discount carriers in the future.
Flair’s new Mexico service will begin Feb. 1, with fares starting between $79-$109 one-way.