Swoop, there it is: A review of Swoop in a 737-800 in economy from Tampa to Toronto
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Great service, power at every seat, solid Wi-Fi and decently priced food and drink -- without the hassles of the typical ultra low-cost carrier experience.
Tight pitch, add-on fees for everything, and an arrival that required walking through rain to reach the terminal.
In a move mimicking many major airlines across the world, Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet announced in 2017 that it would launch a spinoff lower-cost airline. The ultra low-cost carrier, Swoop, first took to the skies in June 2018 with Boeing 737-800 aircraft transferred from WestJet.
If you haven’t heard of the airline, you’re not alone. The airline focuses on flying Canadian tourists to leisure destinations in the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean. So, unless you live in one of the five U.S. cities that has service, you may not even know the airline exists.
One of those five destinations just happens to be my hometown of Tampa, Florida. After passing through the airport a few times and seeing the name Swoop, the curiosity was too strong, and I decided to check it out for myself.
In piecing together a plan for how to get to Dubai for a review of Emirates first class, I ran across Swoop pricing a flight from Tampa to Hamilton, Canada for just $37 one-way. Unfortunately, by the time we locked plans down, the price had increased to $184 one-way:
Remember with ultra low-cost carriers that the base fare is just the starting price. Swoop only agrees to transport you and a personal item for this price. There are extra fees for adding a carry-on or checked bag, selecting a seat or getting food and drink on board.
During booking, Swoop charged $40 for either a checked bag or a carry-on bag. As I live out of my backpack and often carry full-size liquids, I opted to pay for a check bag immediately to guarantee the best price of $40.
The 5x earning on airfare purchases on the Platinum Card® from American Express and Citi Prestige® Card is the best earning rate you’re going to find on airfare. However, although I have both of these cards, I charge cheap airfare — especially on low-cost carriers — to my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the travel protections against trip delays and delayed baggage reimbursement. And that’s just what I did in this case. The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The $224 charge netted me 672 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, worth $13.44 at TPG valuations. I could have earned 1,119 American Express Membership Rewards points, valued at $22.38 per TPG valuations, but I figured the $9 difference in value was worth it for the travel protections.
Having learned my lesson the hard way flying basic economy on mainline carriers, I delayed check-in as late as possible to try to avoid being assigned a middle seat. Four hours until departure, I received an email titled “You fly in less than 72 hours” from Swoop. That was technically not incorrect, but it did lead me to frantically check if I were actually booked to fly out that day.
I clicked through to try to check in online at three hours to departure. As it turned out, there was no option to select seats, add a bag or even check in online. The Swoop website noted that “manage my bookings is available right after initial booking and until 24 hours before departure,” so it seemed the seat and bag options are removed 24 hours to departure.
Instead, you needed to download the Swoop app to check in. So I did. Again, I was prompted to purchase a seat, and again I passed. Sure enough, I was allocated a middle seat toward the back of the plane. I was given yet another the opportunity to pay $45 to move to an extra-legroom seat, $25 for a seat further forward or $15 for another seat in the back. I rolled the dice and stuck with the seat that I was given, hoping for a light load.
Swoop’s check-in counter is on the blue side of Tampa International Airport, and my Uber had no trouble dropping me off right in front of the Swoop entrance.
Airport check-in was a breeze. There wasn’t a single person in line when I arrived just shy of two hours until departure, and one of the two available agents waved me over to check my bag and print my boarding pass.
I asked if I could switch to an aisle or window seat. The agent said there would still be a fee for that but I could check with the gate agents. The check-in process took me just two minutes. In that short time, a line had formed as I left the check-in counter.
By the way, the Sir Turtle Club red carpet made me really want to fly Cayman Airways next.
Swoop departs out of Tampa’s Airside F along with American Airlines and many international airlines. The modern and airy terminal is my favorite at Tampa.
That favoritism is surely influenced by the terminal having an Admirals Club and Tampa’s Priority Pass restaurant lounge, The Café by Mise en Place, which is where I grabbed brunch before the flight thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve®-issued Priority Pass.
Even if you don’t have a non-Amex Priority Pass, there are a number of local and chain restaurants and coffee shops in the terminal.
That includes a Cigar City Brewing right next to the gate (F88) that my Swoop flight departed from.
The clean gate area had plenty of available seats and power towers. The airport’s free Wi-Fi clocked in at a solid 20.4 Mbps download and 25.8 Mbps upload.
As the check-in agent suggested, I checked with a gate agent to see if I could switch seats. I was told there would still be a fee to do so but I’d likely be able to change seats during boarding.
Preboarding began at the scheduled time of 11:10 a.m. followed by an all-call for other passengers three minutes later. That free-for-all boarding had to be annoying to those who were supposed to get advance boarding, which came as a benefit of paying for a carry-on.
Swoop charges for carry-on bags but allows a free small personal item. There was a sizer off to the side at the gate, but I didn’t see the gate agents enforce the airline’s carry-on bag policy during my short time at the gate during boarding.
The aircraft wasn’t quite ready when boarding began. Passengers were held in the jet bridge until 11:16 a.m., but boarding didn’t take long, thanks to the light load. The flight pushed back a little late but took off just 17 minutes after scheduled departure.
Cabin and Seat
Swoop’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft are arranged in one cabin of 3-3 seating.
Most of the seats are supposed to have a pitch of 29 or 30 inches. However, the row that I ended up in for the flight measured just 28 inches of pitch.
However, due to the ultra-slimline seats and seat curvature, legroom wasn’t an issue for my 5-foot, 11-inch frame.
The first six rows on the starboard side of the aircraft are extra-legroom seats with supposedly 4 to 6 extra inches of pitch, although I didn’t get a chance to measure to confirm. These seats don’t have any indication to differentiate them from the other seats, but they’re noticeably bigger.
The seats recline, but only barely. I measured just over 1 inch of recline. That’s barely noticeable, as you can see in the photo below. Also, the leather on the seats looked to be quite worn and tired.
The seat’s headrest can be adjusted upward, and there are adjustable wings that fold in from either side to cradle your head while you sleep.
Each seat has a literature pocket above the tray table that holds the onboard menu, the safety card and a motion-sickness bag.
Unlike on Spirit and Frontier, the tray table is full size, measuring 15 inches by 8 inches. There’s a divot to hold a cup, but no stand to prop up a personal electronic device.
Below the tray table, each seat has a small, elastic-banded pocket.
As if getting a middle seat isn’t bad enough, there’s an equipment box that restricts the under-seat storage space of the middle seats.
Overhead, there are standard Boeing 737 overhead bins. Due to Swoop charging for carry-on bags, there shouldn’t be an issue with these bins filling up.
Amenities and IFE
At first blush, there was not much to speak of as far as amenities on Swoop. There was no seatback inflight entertainment screen, pillow or blanket. And there definitely weren’t next-level amenities like an amenity kit, tail camera or headphones.
However, Swoop did provide a couple of key amenities. Most importantly to most passengers, there was a universal power outlet and a USB outlet at every seat just above the seatback pocket. And there were enough amps coming through the system to fast-charge my cellphone.
And Swoop had something that almost all low-cost carriers don’t: Wi-Fi. The Panasonic Wi-Fi was available starting around 10,000 feet. Wi-Fi prices seemed rather peculiar for our two-hour flight and an airline that focuses on point-to-point leisure travel: CA$10.99 (about $8.50) for 90 minutes, CA$21.99 ($17) for the full flight or CA$32.99 ($25) for 24 hours.
To save $8, I selected the 90-minute option instead of the full-flight option. I was surprised to see a goods-and-services tax added onto the advertised price for a final price of CA$11.54 ($8.75), which I put on my Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It coded as utilities, so I only earned 1x Ultimate Rewards points.
Although the connection was spotty at times, I was able to clock a surprisingly fast 11.1 Mbps download, 2.95 Mbps upload and 718 ms ping on a speed test. However, the Wi-Fi felt much slower than this.
By setting up an account during the purchase, I was able to switch the internet connection between my laptop and my cellphone.
There was supposed to be streaming entertainment available through the Swoop app, but I was never able to figure out a way to do so either through the app or the Wi-Fi portal. On that portal, a banner advertised that free inflight entertainment was Swoop’s “gift to you” for the summer, but there were no links to stream entertainment.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Consistent with other low-cost carriers, Swoop didn’t provide any complimentary food or drink. Instead, it offered a number of sodas (CA$1.99, or $1.50), juices (CA$2.49, or $1.90), coffee (CA$3.49, or $2.65), tea (CA$2.99, or $2.25), water (CA$3.29, or $2.50), spirits (CA$5.99, or $4.50), beers (CA$6.99, or $5.30), wines (CA$7.99, $6) and snacks ranging from gummies (C$1.99, $1.50) to a plate of cheese, crackers and meat (C$6.99, $5.30).
Shortly after takeoff, the cabin crew announced that they’d be passing through the cabin soon to offer buy-on-board food and drink. Sure enough, just after the seat-belt sign was turned off, two teams of flight attendants started on either end of the plane and worked toward the middle.
I wasn’t ready to order, so the friendly flight attendant recommended that I press the call button to let him know when I was. Based on this eagerness, it seemed like the crew likely got commissions from inflight sales, as is fairly typical on low-cost carriers.
Still full from my Priority Pass meal, I just ordered a Blue Moon (Belgian Moon, as it’s named in Canada). The can of beer cost CA$6.99 ($5.30) and was served with a plastic cup.
Buy-on-board items could only be purchased with a credit card, so make sure that you use one that maximizes your return. I’d have used my Ritz-Carlton Rewards® credit card, but I’d already used all of my $300 annual airline credits. So I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve® in the hopes of earning 3x points whether the purchase coded as either travel or dining. Sure enough, it coded as travel and earned 3x points.
The young and energetic flight attendants helped make it a pleasant flight.
The flight attendants working this flight were young, friendly and helpful. During boarding, I noticed a couple flight attendants stepping in to help older passengers store bags in overhead bins.
As I’d been assigned a middle seat, I was looking forward to switching to an empty aisle or window seat. When I asked how many passengers were on our flight, a flight attendant confirmed that there were 71 passengers and that I could switch seats after takeoff. The flight attendant asked that I not select an extra-legroom seat in the front of the aircraft, as other passengers had paid for those seats.
Although seemingly working on commission for food and beverage sales, flight attendants weren’t pushy in the least bit. Instead, it seemed to motivate them to provide better service and ask if I wanted to order another drink when collecting my cup and can from my first.
About 30 minutes from landing in Hamilton, I tested the call button to see if I could order another drink or a snack. The flight attendant responded in about 20 seconds and apologized that she’d just locked down the inflight sales cart for arrival.
During our approach into Hamilton, a pilot announced that the main runway at Hamilton airport was closed for construction and that we’d be using the alternate runway. She mentioned that the landing would be “short and fast” and we’d feel the brakes hit hard, but also that this was a normal procedure. Sure enough, as we landed, the brakes and thrust reversers deployed more than any flight that I’d been on since the United Island Hopper.
I checked after the flight and found that Hamilton’s shorter runway measures 6,010 feet long. That’s a little longer than the main runway at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, California, which is 5,701 feet, and the shortest Island Hopper airport, in Kosrae, Micronesia (KSA), which is 5,750 feet, although the latter has the threat of ending up in the ocean if you don’t stop in time.
Our flight parked at a remote stand, and passengers deplaned by a forward ramp and rear stairs. Our sparse flight disembarked in a matter of minutes.
The trouble was that it was sprinkling outside, and the walk to a covered walkway left passengers out in the rain for a few minutes.
Thanks to there being four officers on hand to process our flight, immigration was a breeze. I entered baggage claim 22 minutes after landing, and the final bags were starting to be pulled from the belt.
On paper, it looks like this was a horrible flight, but that’s really the nature of ultra-low-cost-carriers. In fact, I didn’t think this was a bad flight at all. If I’d booked it a week earlier, I’d have paid $37 one-way for the flight, $40 for a checked bag, $9 for Wi-Fi and $5 for a beer, for an all-in price of $91 for a one-way flight between Florida and Canada.
Especially thanks to the light load, I had plenty of space to spread out for the two-hour flight. The staff on the ground and in the air were as friendly as they could be, the flight was pretty much on time. There weren’t any of the typical annoyances that come with flying an ultra low-cost airline.
I don’t foresee a need for me to fly any of Swoop’s other routes, but if I needed to, I’d certainly consider booking Swoop again — especially at the right price.
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