WestJet intends to launch a new, ultra-low-cost carrier in Canada that would offer lower-cost travel options by essentially breaking out every possible charge individually, allowing travelers to pick and choose the services and options for which they want to pay.
Essentially, WestJet would unbundle all of its services, offering a cheaper, base flight price, then allow travelers to pay for what they want on top of that. This would range from carry-on luggage, to on-board snacks and drinks, and even printed boarded passes.
"...Today, it's all about disrupting at the price-sensitive end of the market," says Clive Beddoe, co-founder of WestJet and Chair of the Board of the Directors. "Launching a ULCC will broaden WestJet's growth opportunities and open new market segments by offering more choice to those Canadians looking for lower fares."
Adds Gregg Saretsky, WestJet President and CEO: "The complete unbundling of services and products in order to lower fares for the price-sensitive traveller has created the ULCC category and our new airline will provide Canadians a pro-competitive, cheap and cheerful flying experience from a company with a proven track record."
On the one hand, it's a great option for frequent travelers who fly often to second homes or vacation spots that are only a few hours away, and who don't need to bring anything with them. They just want a simple, no frills option to get from Point A to Point B. Students flying home from school may also appreciate the option, not needing to bring luggage, and happy to load an electronic boarding pass on their phone to save a couple of bucks. On the other hand, it could be viewed as a method of nickel and diming, offering presumably ultra-low-cost fares only to charge hidden fee upon hidden fee because you didn't bring a printed boarding pass, for example, or your purse is too large to be considered a "personal item" and thus you must pay for a carry-on.
Some travelers may believe that saving a few bucks isn't worth the potential hassle of not knowing what else you might have to pay for, or dealing with delays and other issues that can arise. What's more, many wonder what these so-called "frills" are that travelers are supposedly already paying for today, worked into the price of a ticket. Fuel for the plane? I wouldn't call that a "frill." A working seat? Surely not an ideal one, as you need to pay to upgrade to a seat that offers any decent level of comfort. That package of stale crackers, cookies, or pretzels? Even in-flight entertainment doesn't come free anymore on many airlines, or the "free" options are severely limited, and you need to rent an iPad (for a fee) in order to enjoy them if you haven't downloaded the app to your device ahead of time. Since many "frills" have already been removed from the base airfare price, how is it possible for a discount offering to do away with any more frills? One surely can't call a cup of coffee on the plane, the ability to bring a backpack with your wallet, headphones, and a change of clothes, and a printed boarding pass, a "frill."
WestJet reportedly counts those who don't currently fly at all as key target customers for this new initiative. If my first experience flying required me to pull out a credit card if I wanted a bottle of water, or fork over a few bucks to get the boarding pass required to get on the plane in the first place, I'd be less likely to want to do it again.
The proposed airline, which is subject to agreement with pilots and regulatory approvals, would include an initial fleet of 10 high-density Boeing 737-800s. The service is expected to start later this year.
WestJet would not be the first airline to launch a discount option. Air Canada offers its Route flights, with travel to a number of destinations include Europe, the Caribbean, and Las Vegas, where CES takes place each year. Airline NewLeaf launched last year, offering flights between Canadian cities for as low as $89 one way.
Likening to this to the CE industry, these are the Fidos and Koodos and Virgin Mobile flanker brands for the airlines; the pick-and-pay cable options, so to speak, of travel. They won't be for every customer - many are happy to pay a bit more and know that they won't have to take their credit card out of their wallet again unless they want a glass of red on the plane, and that they'll (hopefully) be seated comfortably. But for penny pinchers, and those on severely tight budgets, the option could open up greater possibilities for travel, especially across Canada.
But it will come down to a few key things: what "frills" will customers no longer have to pay for, and can we really call them "frills?" What will the price differences be between a standard WestJet flight and a regular one, when adding in fees that customers will likely want to pay, like at least one carry-on? And how reliable will the flights be in terms of taking off on time?
Unbundling can work - for some services. I'm just not sure that air travel can be one of them, especially when you consider that it seems like the unbundling of services has been happening already for some time. Extra leg room, anyone?