Swoop, Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier, debuts in select US markets

Swoop, Canada's first ultra-low-cost airline, has just launched flight sales in the U.S. and the carrier is actively encouraging its neighbors to the south to consider a weekend or longer in the Great White North.

The carrier, a subsidiary of WestJet - itself a budget airline - will begin serving five U.S. cities in October, subject to government approval. Flights will leave Las Vegas McCarran International (LAS); Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (AZA) in Arizona; Orlando International (MCO), Tampa International (TPA), and Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Florida.

From LAS, passengers can book direct flights to Edmonton, Alberta (YEG); Abbotsford, B.C. (YXX) in metropolitan Vancouver; and Hamilton, Ontario (YHM), near Toronto. Passengers departing other cities will have fewer direct destinations to choose from, at least in the beginning. Flights from Arizona will only go to Edmonton, while direct flights from Florida will only serve Hamilton.

To encourage Yanks to take a long weekend or more extensive vacation, Swoop provided TheTravelPro with a list of five of Canada's must-see, hidden-gem destinations accessible via Swoop's new low-cost fights.

"From the waterfall capital of the world to B.C.'s Ale Trail, explore cheaply, courtesy of Swoop," their email began.

For Wine and Beer Enthusiasts:
  • Abbotsford and Fraser Valley, British Columbia (located just 40 miles outside Vancouver) is known for its wine country, fresh produce, and Ale Trail. It's a destination option for Americans that rivals the best that sister cities in Oregon have to offer with more affordable lodging and a cheaper flight from five cities in the U.S. 
For Outdoor Enthusiasts and Family Travel:
  • Whistler: Fly to Abbotsford, BC, drive through wine country to get to the internationally renowned ski and mountain destinations, Whistler. With Lake Tahoe becoming increasingly crowded, Whistler is a quick flight to Canada to experience mountain life on a grander scale. 
  • Canadian Rockies and National Parks: Fly Swoop to Edmonton and journey on to the heart of Canada's outdoor playground in the Rockies. 
    • Visits to Elk Island National Park deliver exquisite views of wildlife such as bison, elk, and 250 bird species. Filled with hiking paths, parks with picnic tables, and campsites, it's an ideal family or outdoor destination 
    • Jasper National Park is one of Canada's national treasures with its natural glaciers and over 11,000 square kilometers of glacial lakes and forest making it the largest national park in Canada. 
  • Hamilton, Ontario (50 miles from downtown Toronto): Known as the Waterfall Capital of the World with over 100 waterfalls located within minutes of its downtown core. Each waterfall is unique and offers something new to explore. The Devil's Punchbowl is popular for its unique rock formations and plunging depths. Sherman Falls is a beautiful tiered waterfall tucked into the woods. Tews Falls is the tallest waterfall in Ontario and has a height of 41 meters. Last but not least, Webster’s Falls is a curtain waterfall with beautiful panoramas.
For History Buffs:
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia: Steeped in British and Canadian history that centers on the sea, Halifax is popular for it Citadel, the home of a fortress used as a naval station during the reign of the British empire. With plenty of outdoor marine activities to partake in, visitors can enjoy strolling through public gardens, ferry rides to Dartmouth (a township since 1750), and visits to the oldest maritime museums in Canada. 
As of this writing, potential visitors cannot book flights from the U.S. to Halifax (YHZ) or Winnipeg, Manitoba (YWG), the other Canadian cities Swoop serves, via the website.

Swoop Route Map

Because it is new to the aviation landscape, information about things like seat width, pitch, and other factors that contribute to (or detract from) travelers' comfort are hard to come by. However, the carrier was quick to point out the differences between it and other bargain airlines.

"[U]nlike Spirit, Frontier or Allegiant Airlines, Swoop is the only ULLC to offer free in-seat power, Wi-Fi, and TV/Movie streaming," it said.

But like those - and many other - carriers, Swoop is taking what it terms the "unbundled" approach to pricing. I call it nickel-and-diming.

So, while its promotional materials said, "U.S. travelers can now cross the border for $99 trips," I decided to see what I could find in the real world.

Because Swoop does not fly from the metro Seattle area where I make my home, I chose a round-trip from Las Vegas to Abbotsford, leaving Nov. 4 and returning Nov. 11.  The website quoted me a seat-only fare of CAN$301.79, which is US$231.45 as of Aug. 22.

To reserve a seat ranges from an additional $12 to $50 each way. Seats with extra legroom are the most expensive, ranging from $24 to $50.

Passengers get one free "personal item (which) must fit under the seat in front of" them. Max size: 16" x 6" x 13". If you want to carry on actual luggage, that's another $35 each way, while a checked bag is only $30 each way.

Ants in your pants? Priority boarding is an additional $10 each way. Want flexibility? For another $10 each way, you can buy ModiFly, which lets a traveler change dates and/or times up to 24 hours before departure.

Adding the extra legroom to (maybe) make my six-foot frame comfortable, carrying on, and getting on early brings the tab to CAN$491.79, or US$377.26.

For the same dates, Air Canada's Rouge offers a round-trip for US$443 that includes one checked bag and free standard seat selection, so Swoop's fare is indeed more competitive. Whether it will be competitive in terms of comfort and service remains to be seen.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos provided by Swoop
Click on photo to view larger image

If you found this article helpful, informative and/or entertaining, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help support this private project.