After a turbulent start, Canada's newest low-cost air service has taken off.
NewLeaf Travel is now offering flights Monday from 11 cities, including Halifax, Kelowna and Edmonton, with one-way fares as low as $79. The air service launched its inaugural flight from Hamilton, Ont. to Winnipeg with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport on Monday.
Winnipeg-based NewLeaf attempted to launch in January, billing itself as a no-frills, ultra-low-cost alternative to airlines such as Air Canada and like WestJet.
But a week after the company began selling tickets, NewLeaf ran into turbulence with the Canadian Transportation Agency over whether it needed a licence to operate.
NewLeaf contended it didn’t need a licence because it was a travel company, not an airline and didn’t operate its own planes. Instead, it purchases seats from Kelowna, B.C.-based Flair Airlines – which is licensed by the CTA -- and then resells them.
As it awaited a ruling from the CTA, NewLeaf was forced to suspend ticket sales and refund customers for flights it had already scheduled for February.
At the end of March, the CTA ruled in favour of NewLeaf, saying it fit the definition of a "reseller," clearing the way for the company to resume ticket sales.
Last month, NewLeaf Travel announced it was trying again, promising flights serving 11 cities -- up from the original seven.
NewLeaf says it can afford to keep its fares low by operating out of smaller airports with lower landing fees, and flying direct flights with minimal time between flights. It also charges for in-flight refreshments, for seat selection, and for both carry-on luggage and checked bags.
NewLeaf appears to be taking a page from other global discount airlines such as EasyJet, Southwest and Ryanair, which have offered no-frills services for years.
But many of those airlines’ passengers have complained on online review sites and message boards about being “nickel and dimed” when it comes to printing out boarding passes, for example.
BNN’s Paige Ellis says NewLeaf executives are optimistic that Canadian travellers want a low-cost alternative.
“(They say) that demand has been extremely high. They have filled a lot of their flights so far. So it sounds like Canadians like the idea of low-cost fares,” Ellis said.
NewLeaf’s Chief Commercial Officer Dean Dacko says the airline’s model is all about offering travellers choices.
“What we want to do is provide that ultra low-cost fare and then put the power of choice back in the consumer’s hands, where it rightly belongs,” he told BNN.
“Everyone gets to choose exactly what they want their flight experience to be… You’re not paying for someone else’s services; you’re only paying for what you want.”