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Sorting out Air Canada, WestJet moves

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Even though the bookings for this time of year tend to be concentrated on sun destinations, the questions this week relate to the much broader issues.

QUESTION: I keep hearing about new airlines relating to both Air Canada and WestJet Airlines. What is happening?

ANSWER: In separate announcements a couple of weeks ago, both airlines said they are changing their corporate structure.

Just as Air Canada once promoted Jazz as its regional carrier, WestJet has decided it wants to compete for some of that regional business.

Out of an internal contest to find the name for its new subsidiary, it announced WestJet Encore would be the brand on the new aircraft that would be used to serve similar smaller markets.

Industry watchers don't understand why they went with that name since there is likely to be confusion with Encore Cruises, a division of the Thomas Cook organization in Canada.

Encore will begin operations by the second half of next year, using 20 Bombardier Q400 propeller aircraft.

There has been no word yet about whether they plan to open up markets such as Brandon, or compete on the Churchill route against Calm Air.

On the other side of the equation, Air Canada's decision could definitely affect the tour operator market in a more significant manner.

For months, Air Canada had talked about the potential launch of a new low-cost carrier. Its announcement outlined the formation of an integrated leisure group that would include Air Canada Vacations and the new low-cost carrier.

Air Canada has hired Michael Friisdahl, formally in charge of all Thomas Cook divisions in Canada, as head of the new division.

Two Boeing 767-300 ERs and two Airbus A319s will be added to the new entity's fleet. There is likely to be a modified seat configuration as well.

Travellers like Air Canada Vacations because they fly on regular AC aircraft with comfortable seat room and adequate pitch between rows.

Tour operators make the most money when they can squeeze as many seats as possible into an aircraft. While no announcements have been made yet, I will be surprised if that isn't part of the new direction.

The new low-cost carrier is projected to fly to a new series of European destinations by June 2013.

QUESTION: Cruises are offered to Alaska, Europe and just about any place in the world. Are there no cruises that include Canada in their itineraries?

ANSWER: There certainly are. Vancouver, while losing a number of cruise line stops a couple of years ago, is still a favourite for many lines, as is Victoria.

On the eastern side of our nation, Quebec City is one of the most sought-after stops by Americans, above and beyond most other ports.

Post-cruise surveys also show the Quebec experience is among the highest-rated in the world.

Other ports include Halifax, Charlottetown, and Sydney, N.S.

At least two cruise lines, Holland America and Seabourn have recently made stronger commitments to Canadian destinations.

QUESTION: I often go on the government website you frequently recommend at www.voyage.gc.ca for information on places I am thinking about travelling to. I find they warn about a lot of things for most countries that seem to be vastly over-stated.

Is that a pattern?

ANSWER: I take seriously the government warnings against travel to specific countries or regions. These warnings are important for travellers because they may affect your travel insurance cancellation rights, depending upon the degree of warning the government issues.

Lesser warnings are frequently issued as a matter of precaution. Everyone's risk tolerance is different and I believe the government does speak for the lowest common denominator in this regard.

I think it is extremely important to read all the information and use common sense and judgment, in addition to the kind of feedback you write about to make your final decision.

What I have most appreciated is how the website sets out its specific warnings about regions, borders, cities, and sometimes even neighbourhoods in cities.

The other positive aspect is the location of the specific warnings on the first page of the country overview.

Canada is not the only country that tends to be conservative in its travel warnings. An Australian warning once suggested visitors might consider avoiding Canada because of dangers relating to bear attacks.

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 on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 D9

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