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Changes in the air among Canadian airlines

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Perhaps it is because airline issues have been in the news a great deal of late that so many questions have come to me about where this industry is going.

It is also noteworthy, notwithstanding the biggest of mergers in the works south of the border, our own carriers are seriously looking at creating a more-competitive environment in our own country.

This can only be good for consumers. Once all their plans materialize, I have no doubt they will have an influence on keeping prices in check.

QUESTION: I took my first short-duration flight from Toronto to Ottawa a while back on Porter Airlines.

If their service on that flight was any indication, they seem to be an exceptional airline. What are the chances we will ever see them serving the Manitoba market.

ANSWER: We don't hear much about them here, but they really have made major inroads in Eastern Canada, considering the limited number of years they have been in business.

I have often compared them to WestJet Airlines Ltd., in the sense they seemed to have evolved out of a strategic plan of growth and a commitment to be different from other competitors.

All of their aircraft to date have been Bombardier Q400's. While they based their growth on serving Eastern Canada and a number of eastern destinations in the U.S., they carried more than two and a half million passengers last year.

When they launched in 2007, they carried 300,000 passengers. Just this month it was announced they had reached the 10 million flyer mark during their lifespan.

They are now in the process of adding CS100's to their fleet, also from Bombardier.

Over the coming years they plan to add Winnipeg as one of their new destinations, but that may be as far away as 2016. As a part of their planning they include most of the major cities in Western Canada, but also believe they will be able to strongly compete south of the border in California and Florida and in the Caribbean as well.

If they fly to the Caribbean, I believe it is almost certain they will establish a parallel tour operator program to serve those markets as well.

The airline has not been short on controversy. Flying out of the airport on Toronto Island, many have fought their expansion, believing they are harming the environment in any number of ways with their proximity to the city.

Short-haul commuters, on the other hand, have loved the convenience.

We may have to wait, but from anyone I have talked to about this carrier, the wait may be well worth it.

QUESTION: Over the past couple of years it seems there has been almost an announcement every couple of months about a new code-share agreement between WestJet and other international airlines. Have they been put in place, and can they be accessed out of Manitoba for overseas vacations?

ANSWER: As frequent travellers know, being able to book a single ticket for an overseas flight even though they may fly with more than one airline to get there is both commonplace and important.

WestJet recognized this a few years ago and began an active pursuit of airlines that would be willing to work with them on code-shares.

A code-share as defined by airlines is the ability for multiple airlines to sell space on the same flight as though it was their flight. This sounds easy in principle, but requires expensive computer integration and significant attention to detail in transferring baggage and passengers. Once WestJet made the commitment to change, it went for the biggest and the best.

Today, WestJet Airlines has code-share agreements with at least 10 major world carriers including British Airways, Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines, KLM, American Airlines and Air France.

In fact, only a couple of weeks ago Air France, with its French tourism partners, held their second annual travel agency promotional event in Winnipeg. They clearly underscored one of the major reasons for that decision last year was because they believe they can become competitive in carrying passengers not only from Winnipeg to France but to the multitude of other destinations they serve via their Charles De Gaulle hub in Paris.

While WestJet has concentrated on code-share agreements, they have recently also added a new wrinkle to their competitive edge.

They have announced a non-stop flight from Canada to Dublin via St. John's, NL. While for Manitobans this will mean two stops to Europe, their pricing may make the slight inconvenience become suddenly attractive.

QUESTION: In the world of big is better, can you tell me what the latest is in the American Airlines/US Airways merger?

ANSWER: The U.S. Justice Department was where the holdup was initially. That is no longer the case, and after an agreement for the two airlines to cut back on some of their services to America's bigger cities, it is now full steam ahead for the merger.

Interestingly, while some consumer groups opposed the merger, Allegiant Airlines, who are draining so many passengers from our own airport, have fully supported the merger, believing it will give them greater access to expand their network over the coming years.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com and at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2013 E6

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