WestJet shutting down discount airline Swoop

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WestJet is shutting down its budget airline, Swoop.

The company made the announcement in a news release Friday, noting that the ratification of its recent deal with its pilots allows it to integrate all of its staff at various airlines into a single banner.

“As negotiated in the collective agreement, the WestJet Group will now begin integration efforts of its ultra-low-cost airline, Swoop,” the airline said.

“Through an expedited process, the airline anticipates a full integration into its mainline operations by the end of October. To avoid traveler impact, Swoop will operate its existing network through to the end of its published schedule on October 28. Swoop employees will move to WestJet.”

The move comes as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced its members had ratified their recent pact with the airline, one that brings in 24 per cent raises over four years, and puts Swoop pilots on a similar footing as WestJet’s in terms of seniority and compensation issues.

The union said 87 per cent voted in favor of the deal, “which goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise the pilots bring to their airline and will help solve many of WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues.”

Swoop was launched nearly five years ago, in June 2018. It offered heavily discounted rates with few frills to cost-conscious travelers. A handful of other so-called ultra low-cost carriers have taken to Canada’s skies in recent years, including Flair, Lynx and Canada Jetlines.

While Swoop’s demise will remove a major player in Canada’s discount travel space, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech says the airline will continue to offer affordable options.

“This integration will enhance our ability to serve a broader spectrum of guests,” he said. “Instead of only 16 aircraft serving the ultra-low-cost market, each aircraft, in our 180-strong fleet, will offer ultra-affordable travel options through to a premium inflight experience.”

But ultimately the news is bad development for consumers, according to John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University who studies the airline industry.

“It has implications in terms of the choices that Canadians will have in terms of an alternative ultra-low-cost carrier,” he told CBC News.

Although it started in 1996 as a regionally focused airline with generally cheaper prices, WestJet is no longer a discount airline, Gradek says. “The loss of Swoop basically eliminates a carrier that was specializing in low cost and it’s going to be a loss to Canadian travelers.”

More moves to come?

Gradek says it’s not surprising to see WestJet make the move, as one of the main advantages of Swoop in the first place was its lower cost base.

“One of the conditions for creating Swoop was to have a different salary scale,” he said. “With the ALPA agreement that differential that allows you to have some competitive advantage price wise disappears.”

Gradek says he wouldn’t be surprised to see WestJet do something similar to another discount airline it recently bought, Sunwing.

“WestJet has choices — they’re now looking at Sunwing and that’s the next shoe that’s going to fall,” he said. “how far do you take this integration that started with Swoop — do you do the same thing with Sunwing?”

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