Canada’s low-cost Flair Airlines costs 50% less than Air Canada — and it isn’t bad
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The Canadian airline industry has long been ripe for competition. The vast majority of the market is controlled by Air Canada and WestJet, which has caused airfare in the country to remain high for years. But there are finally new competitors popping up, including low-cost carrier Flair Airlines, which has expanded rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Flair used to solely operate Canadian domestic routes, but is expanding its flight map to include U.S. tourist destinations in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and others. Of course, it will continue to operate an extensive Canadian route network too, servicing most of the country’s major cities.
In advance of the carrier’s continued U.S. growth, I took a Flair flight between Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) earlier this year when I traveled Canada to cover the country’s reopening to U.S. tourists. Frankly, I was surprised by how good the flight was — especially for the reasonable price.
Here’s a closer look at my Flair Airlines experience and why I think it may be worth choosing Flair over Air Canada and other legacy carriers during the pandemic.
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I started the booking process by launching Google Flights to find the cheapest flight between Toronto and Montreal. Unlike some ultra low-cost carriers, Flair does show up on many online travel agencies and prices should be roughly the same as booking direct. That said, I started with Google Flights as I wanted to compare the price to Canada’s classic carriers, Air Canada and WestJet.
On my date of travel, Air Canada and Flair both had early morning flights, but the Flair one was pricing out at around half of the Air Canada ticket. Of course, the Air Canada fare included a full-size carry-on bag, but since it was a standard fare, Air Canada would still charge for seat selection. If you’re traveling light, booking the cheap Flair Airlines flight is a solid deal, even if you pay for seat selection.
These price disparities aren’t uncommon either. Looking in mid-December, Flair flights on the Toronto-to-Montreal route continue to price significantly cheaper than Air Canada and WestJet. For example, at the time of writing, a Dec. 15 Flair flight on this route costs $40 one-way while Air Canada’s and WestJet’s cheapest flights are both $135.
After finding prices, I went to the Flair website and purchased my flight. The whole process was pretty simple — I searched for my itinerary, selected a flight and followed the on-screen prompts to book. There are multiple packages you can choose from, which include things like bags, seat selection, etc. I didn’t purchase a package and instead paid $7.90 (after currency conversion) to select a standard aisle seat.
After seat selection, the total was roughly $79 after currency conversion. This was still significantly cheaper than a comparable Air Canada flight without seat selection.
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The check-in experience at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) was simple. I checked in online prior to arriving at Terminal 3, where all of Flair’s Toronto flights depart. For ease of finding the ticket, I took a screenshot of my boarding pass because I couldn’t add it to Apple Wallet.
Terminal 3 is where most of Toronto’s domestic and U.S. cross-border flights depart. The hall is very modern and lined with shops and departure boards. Much to my surprise, many of the shops and cafes were open despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Flair has a handful of baggage drops and check-in counters located toward the center of the terminal. There are also kiosks where you can print your luggage tag and use the self-service baggage drop to quickly check your luggage. I skipped the check-in counter since I already had my boarding pass and no checked luggage.
My flight was departing from Gate B38, so I made my way to the B gates and cleared security in well under 10 minutes. The airport wasn’t empty, per se, but it was far less busy than other times I’ve flown out of Toronto. I imagine this was partially due to the coronavirus pandemic, and partially to fact that my flight departed at 7:30 a.m.
There were some open shops and cafes near the B gates, so I ordered a coffee and yogurt from Starbucks and sat in an unoccupied gate area away from other people to enjoy my breakfast. This part of the terminal was mostly empty except for a handful of travelers departing on early flights.
As you might expect, Flair doesn’t have its own lounges. I checked the Priority Pass app to see if there were nearby lounges to use, but I was out of luck. The only lounge in Terminal 3 was the Air France-KLM Lounge in the C gates, but it didn’t open until 8 a.m.
I made my way over to the gate 10 minutes before boarding and found that most of the seats were occupied by other passengers. We were one of the first flights out of Terminal 3 that morning, so the plane was waiting for us at the gate with no delay.
There were no outlets under the seats surrounding the gate, so bring a backup battery with you if you think you’ll need a charge.
The boarding process started right on time, with those who paid for priority boarding allowed on the plane first. Parents of small children can request priority boarding at the gate, which I thought was a nice touch for families. After priority passengers, the plane boarded by groups of rows.
Passengers made their way to the plane quickly and without issue, so boarding didn’t take too long. Much to my surprise, there was very little crowding near the gate.
I quickly found my seat and sat down for the one-hour-and-15-minute journey to Montreal; we pushed back shortly thereafter. Overall, it was an uneventful and pleasant boarding experience — something I appreciate in the wee hours of the morning.
Cabins and seats
My flight was operated by one of Flair’s three 737-800 aircraft. However, the 737 MAX 8 makes up the majority of its current fleet, and it has more on order to fuel its expansion. All of Flair’s aircraft operate with economy-only cabins, which is typical of an ultra low-cost carrier.
One of the first things I noticed about the jet interior was how spotless the cabin was … and how very nondescript the design was. All the seats were gray leather, and there were no frills like overhead or seatback displays. These were just seats to get you from point A to point B, and nothing more.
I’d selected Seat 20D, which is an aisle seat without extra legroom. As someone a hair over 6 feet tall, I wanted to secure an aisle seat as being stuck in the middle seat isn’t comfortable for me, even on full-service airlines. I also had the option of paying more for a seat toward the front of the plane or a seat with extra legroom.
That said, the legroom in my standard seat was adequate and my large travel backpack fit under the seat in front of me without issue. The airline doesn’t publish seat pitch or width on its website, so I can’t give you exact numbers. That said, it was far more comfortable than Ryanair or Spirit Airlines, where my legs are pressed against the seatback pocket.
The seats were comfortable for an ultra low-cost carrier too. They didn’t recline, but they also weren’t as slim as the seats you’ll find on similar carriers in the U.S., and the extra padding went a long way for me.
The full-size tray table easily fit my 16-inch MacBook Pro. This is in stark contrast to Spirit Airlines, which only has a small drink tray at each seat.
The lavatories were clean and pretty standard for a 737-800 (read: tiny).
All in all, I found Flair’s seats to be surprisingly comfortable for the short hop from Toronto to Montreal. I had enough room to sit comfortably and work on my laptop — and on a flight just over an hour long, I don’t need much else. Of course, the flight may have been marginally more comfortable with more legroom and the ability to recline on an Air Canada flight, but that was just not worth the extra cost to me.
Amenities and inflight entertainment
There are no amenities or inflight entertainment on Flair Airlines.
You won’t find inflight Wi-Fi, streaming entertainment or outlets on the 737-800. So if you get bored easily, make sure your laptop or tablet is charged and has a movie or two preloaded before you fly. Alternatively, prepay for a window seat and watch the Earth pass beneath you. Whatever floats your boat.
That said, Flair Airlines is seemingly in the process of rolling out Wi-Fi and wireless entertainment via the Flair In-Flight app across some of its fleet. Little information is currently available, but Flair’s website notes that flights FL816 and FL817 are the only two equipped with this technology. According to FlightAware, however, those flight numbers haven’t operated since July 2020 and 2019, respectively. Here’s hoping this rolls out fleetwide sooner rather than later.
Food and beverage
During normal travel times, Flair offers buy-on-board food and beverage service, but it has been suspended due to the pandemic and Flair hasn’t announced plans to bring it back. When the service does return, you can expect to pay $2.75 for a soda, $5.50 for a Molson beer and $2.35 for a cup of coffee, all after currency conversion. The full menu is available on Flair’s website.
No water service was offered on my Flair flight either. So bring your own water bottle and snacks if you think you’ll need them in flight.
With food and drink service suspended, there wasn’t much service at all on my Flair Airlines flight. But I found the flight crew to be extremely efficient at getting passengers aboard and very friendly during our limited interactions. For a roughly one-hour flight, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.
Overall, my Flair Airlines flight was … a flight. It got me from point A to point B very cheaply and with no frills. I have no qualms about flying with the carrier again on short hops, especially if it’s significantly cheaper than an Air Canada or WestJet flight on the same route. That said, I would like to see Flair bring back food and beverage service sooner rather than later, and I’m excited to see how the airline’s internet service performs when it launches.
Further, Flair’s rapid expansion will be good for the Canadian market as a whole. The Canadian budget-carrier scene has long lacked a carrier large enough to make a dent in high domestic and cross-border fares. It’s great to see Flair fill this gap while providing a comfortable inflight experience, even if amenities are lacking during the pandemic.
Featured photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy.
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