It isn’t quite a new carrier and it isn’t quite a discount carrier. It won’t involve service to new destinations and it won’t really alter the way flights are sold. Air Canada‘s new Rouge operation is launching in 2013 and there will be changes but probably not enough to help the airline-within-an-airline model succeed. Rouge is targeting leisure routes. There will be 13 destinations covered by the rouge service including three in Europe and ten so-called "Sun" destinations. The rouge fleet is small – only 4 aircraft – so most destinations will apparently not be served daily.
The infrequent service is unfortunate in some respects but it makes a bit of sense for leisure markets where there is limited demand. There are several other aspects of the service which also speak to the limited amenities associated with leisure/LCC operations. Most in-flight services will be on a paid basis. Meals will be complimentary on flights to and from Europe but the Sun routes will be buy-on-board for everything. The in-flight entertainment systems will take advantage of newer streaming media options, saving the company money. But passengers are likely going to be paying to access that content; full details on the price and systems are not yet available. Oh, and no in-seat power will be provided so hopefully the tablet, phone or laptop batteries are fully charged and long-lasting.
Where Air Canada is really cutting away at the value, however, is in the integration with their Aeroplan frequent flier program. Rather than offering earning based on the distance flown routes operated under the rouge brand will earn a fixed number of points based on the fare paid. And the earning rates are not at all pretty.
Flying a cheap fare from Toronto to Athens on rouge will net most passengers fewer than 1000 points. That same trip flown on Air Canada and other partners would net 10,000 points or more. Certainly for the very occasional traveler those accrual numbers don’t necessarily matter; there is a good chance they’d never get good value out of the 10,000 points either. But the skewing of the rates is rather severe.
Also potentially confusing is that, because it isn’t really a separate operation, the rouge flights are mixed in with the regular search results on the Air Canada site. Here’s what a search from Toronto to Athens looks like:
There is no indication that the direct flight, saving around 3 hours of travel time, comes with distinctly different services, both in-flight and on the ground. Hovering the mouse over the fare names at the top gives some additional details but not all of them. Once the flight is selected there are some additional details offered:
Still, the mixed levels of service have the potential to be rather confusing to customers.
Also, it is not clear how these flights will register with Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners. That could lead to even more customer frustration. Air Canada has confirmed that the flights will still be considered Star Alliance-operated with respect to partner benefits. So in many ways these are way better for customers of Air Canada’s partners than for Air Canada’s direct customers:
Air Canada is facing stiff competition from lower cost competitors, including Air Transat and WestJet, competitors which have a similarly limited offering to the new rouge services. But for those competitors there is no confusion amongst the customers; all the service is at that same level. And, at the end of the day, meeting the expectations of customers is more important that having the best product in the market. Air Canada is creating quite the opportunity for such confusion, a move which may ultimately prove to be the downfall of rouge.
Back in October 2010 American Airlines and WestJet teamed up on interline service, allowing for easier connections and ticketing options for passengers. That deal allowed for transfers only at the Canadian connection points between the carriers and didn’t cover frequent flyer reciprocity. At least the frequent flier part of the deal has finally been addressed.
American Airlines announced earning rates today for flights on WestJet metal:
These points do NOT qualify towards elite status.
There are at least four fare buckets – R, S, J and U – which are excluded from earnings. I’m guessing one or two of those might be for award seats but it seems unlikely all four are.
So, like always, keep an eye on the fare classes when booking, but also look to earn with a new partner.
Announcing a child-free zone on an airplane at the beginning of April is generally not a great idea if you want to be taken seriously. Canadian carrier WestJet had some fun with that this week and many folks enjoyed the laugh. For Malaysian Airlines, however, this is no laughing matter – they’re setting up a kid-free zone on some aircraft and they’re quite serious about it.
Two different Asian travel agencies (see here and here for reasonably coherent translations) are now publishing an alert from the carrier indicating that the upper deck on their A380 aircraft will exclude children under 12. This will apply to both the business and economy class seats on that deck. There is also a rather large economy class cabin on the main deck so accommodating those passengers shouldn’t be too difficult. The only business class seats, however, are upstairs so this may pose an issue for some passengers in that cabin, though others may see it as quite a benefit.
JetBlue and WestJet were the winners of the auctions for landing slots at New York City‘s LaGuardia airport and Washington, DC‘s National airport according to reports. JetBlue had made it clear that they intended to bid on the slots and their win there is not particularly surprising. WestJet is a slightly bigger surprise (and only won at LaGuardia); the carrier appears ready to attack the "golden triangle" commuter traffic from Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to New York.
On the JetBlue side there isn’t any particular indication yet of what the routes will be used for (or even an official confirmation that they won). With an equal number in both DC and LaGuardia it would be possible to take on the US Airways and Delta Shuttle operations, though that also seems unlikely; the market doesn’t need a third player in that space. There are enough other routes that could be operated from the two airports which makes Shuttle service seem unlikely. And with $72MM invested in acquiring the slots it seems to make sense that they’re going to want to maximize revenue, not just attack other established markets.
Most surprisingly to some observers is that Southwest apparently declined to bit at both airports. Southwest was the main instigator of troubles with the previous efforts to distribute the slots so their absence from the auction is somewhat surprising. That said, with their purchase of AirTran the need to acquire slots through the auction process was rather diminished.
For the past couple years American Airlines has been the dark horse amongst the major carriers in the United States. They’ve been trailing the others in profitability (though they did report a profit in Q3 ‘10) and they’ve been struggling to keep their route network competitive with the other programs that are growing alliances. Things are starting to look up a bit, however, with the ATI deal for OneWorld partners British Airways and Iberia, the interline agreement with JetBlue and most recently the announcement earlier this week on an interline agreement with Canadian carrier WestJet.
The new agreement opens up the opportunity for American’s passengers to connect to flights on WestJet’s network throughout Canada. A total of 25 new cities will be available via connections in six Canadian gateways served by American or American Eagle: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax and Ottawa. The two carriers expect a phase two of the agreement to eventually include connections at WestJet’s US gateways.
The current iteration of the interline agreement covers through ticketing and checked baggage but does not include things like frequent flyer program reciprocity. American and JetBlue have reportedly come to an agreement on the FF front so it is likely that similar negotiations will follow on the WestJet side.
The move is also a big win for WestJet. They have announced intentions to arrange a similar interline agreement with Southwest over two years ago. That agreement proved fruitless, however, and the deal was never actually implemented. The very quick start-up time on this deal – bookings on aa.com will be available starting on November 9, 2010 – should help avoid that this time around.
When last we met, Delta and US Airways were in the middle of negotiations on one of the largest airline operations reallocations in recent memory. The two carriers were going to be trading over 150 slot pairs at New York City’s La Guardia and Washington, DC’s National airports. But that was seven months ago and since then both the US Air pilots’ union and the FAA have had some comments about the proposed move. The FAA was insistent that some of the slots be given over to limited incumbent carriers or to new entrants at the two airports. As of yesterday it appears that some agreements have been reached to make the swaps happen.
Delta will be giving up 15 of its 125 new slot pairs at LaGuardia, selling five each to AirTran, Spirit Air and WestJet. WestJet would be a new entrant at LaGuardia while AirTran and Spirit are considered limited incumbents based on their relatively minimal operations there. Spirit currently operates 11 daily departures, mostly to their hub in Ft. Lauderdale; AirTrain operates 18 daily flights to five destinations, 9 of them are to their Atlanta Hub. WestJet currently serves the New York City area with service to Newark airport and it is not clear whether they intend to move that service to LaGuardia or operate to both facilities going forward.
In Washington, US Airways will receive 42 new slot pairs, of which five will be ceded to jetBlue as a new entrant to the market. jetBlue currently has significant operations at Dulles airport but no service into National and has previously expressed interest in starting service there should slots become available. That opportunity appears to be on the horizon for them.
This deal is still subject to approval from the FAA and such approval should not be assumed. Previously the FAA suggested that 20 of the LaGuardia slots and 14 of the National slots would need to be shed. The proposal from the airlines doesn’t quite meet those targets. Still, with the number of other carriers involved it does seem likely that the deal will be approved. Of course, the pilots might still find a way to interfere.
OK, maybe calling it an alliance is a stretch, but Southwest is definitely making a push to add more options for their customers these days. First it was the WestJet partnership announced earlier this summer and now a similar deal has been signed with Mexico’s Volaris.
Volaris has their primary hub at Mexico City’s Toluca airport (TLC) rather than Benito Juárez (MEX) which is where most flights to the region operate out of. This would seem to be consistent with Southwest’s approach of operating out of smaller airports in major metropolitan areas (Oakland and Chicago-Midway come to mind).
The deal will depend on Volaris starting operations across the border into the United States, where they will be able to meet up with Southwest’s routes and passengers. It does not appear that Southwest has any intention of flying to Mexico, just like they will not be flying to Canada as part of the WestJet deal. Looking at the distances involved, it seems that getting from the current Volaris hub up to any city where Southwest has a decent feed would be a pretty long flight (2+ hours), much longer than what Volaris operates these days. That will add some interesting factors to the route planning and operational issues of such an arrangement. There’s also a chance that Volaris will open another hub closer to the USA from where they can link to more cities in the USA, but it is hard to know at this point.
One major issue the partnership faces is that they will need to operate from airports that offer immigration and customs facilities. Those are somewhat limited, particularly at airports that Southwest has high-frequency operations.
Volaris is expected to begin operations to the USA in Spring ‘09 with code-shares established in ‘10, so there is still plenty of time for everything to work out. In the mean time, I would expect to hear much more from Southwest as they continue to expand their reach and partnerships.
Southwest Airlines and WestJet have announced a partnership that should see a significant expansion of route access for the airlines, thanks to planned codesharing and distribution agreements between the two. Similar to the arrangement that Southwest had with ATA prior to the latter’s bankruptcy earlier this year, passengers will be able to leverage the WestJet route network through purchases made from Southwest in the very near future, with codesharing added in to the mix at some point next year.
WestJet expects that this could result in a significant increase in traffic – up to $500MM per year worth. No word on the expected financial upside for Southwest, but the article I found it in is from a Canadian source, so no real surprise there.
This deal will bring back international destinations for Southwest passengers. The carrier only operates in the United States but the ATA partnership had provided access to Mexico previously. Now Canada is available, though no word on how the Rapid Rewards program will integrate with the WestJet partnership, either for earning or burning.
It is not surprising to see such strategic partnerships taking hold amongst airlines these days. Here’s hoping this one is beneficial to the passengers and the companies.