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Olsen: How to fly for less


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Did you know that airplane baptism, otherwise known as a water salute, is a thing in the airline industry? I didn’t know about this type of ceremony until I was inside a Lynx airplane that was on the receiving end of this at the Vancouver Airport. On April 7, two fire trucks sprayed water in a glorious arch over a Lynx airplane to recognize the carrier’s first flight at the YVR airport. When Canada Jetlines begins operating later this summer, there will probably be more of these types of ceremonies to recognize that new carrier.

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Lynx Air is the newest budget airline in Canada, joining a crowded marketplace that includes SwoopFlair, PorterAir Canada Rouge, and others. With inflation at an all-time high, more Canadians are looking for ways to save money on travel and a discount airline might help them do that. But before you book a flight with a discount airline, there are a few things you should consider.

An image of a man inside a Swoop Airlines airplane.
Budget airlines like Swoop may not let you select your seat when you do your online check-in. If you don’t pay extra to pre-assign your seats, you may be stuck at the back of the plane by the toilets or get a middle seat. Photo by Debbie Olsen

Schedule Limitations

You should look at how many flights are offered per day and per week by the carrier on the route you’re travelling. Major carriers often have multiple flights per day to a destination, but a discount carrier, especially one that is just starting, might only have one or two flights per week. This can be an issue if you are attending a business meeting or an event and there is a cancellation, a delay, or a schedule change. If your flight is severely delayed or cancelled with a major carrier, they can often put you onto the next available flight on the same day. A budget airline may not have that option. If you’re travelling to attend a meeting or event, you may be taking a risk with a budget airline.

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A schedule change with a budget airline that flies less frequently can result in a change of several days rather than several hours. When Dianne Lemieux travelled to Mexico recently with Swoop, for example, a schedule change resulted in a two-day change in the return flight she had originally booked. “I wasn’t on a tight schedule, but for someone who has to return to work it would have been a problem,” she said. “I was able to extend my accommodations and insurance and return with Swoop on the new schedule. Other than that, it was one of the best flights I’ve ever had, and the savings were significant.”

It should be noted that if an airline changes the schedule of a flight dramatically, passengers have the option to ask for a refund and rebook a new return flight with another carrier. If the schedule change happens closer to the departure date, purchasing a new flight may be more expensive.

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Track Record

It’s always a good idea to read reviews when you’re booking a flight with an air carrier you’re not familiar with. Skytrax provides certified airline ratings, but if an airline is new, there may not be any reviews for it. Also, if you are looking at sites with customer reviews, remember that it’s more common for people with complaints to write a review than those who had a good experience.

An image of a flight attendant doing a safety demonstration on Lynx Air.
Canadians can be confident about the safety of discount airlines. All Canadian air carriers must follow stringent guidelines set out by the Canadian Transportation Agency. Photo by Debbie Olsen

Baggage Costs

Unlike major carriers, most discount carriers do not include carry-on bags in the cost of their tickets. One small personal item is included and if your item is larger than the recommended size, you may be charged for a carry-on bag. Measure your item and make sure it is within the guidelines. Consider the cost of baggage when you are calculating the total cost of your flight to determine if the discount flight is a bargain.

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Entertainment and Refreshments

In most cases, entertainment is not included on budget flights and refreshments may not be included either. Lynx Air, for example, does not serve any food onboard and they only serve water on longer flights. It’s a good idea to bring your own snacks and drinks if you are travelling on a discount carrier. You may also want to bring a book or download a movie or a game to your fully charged electronic device. There may not be a plugin on the plane to recharge your device.

An image of the beverage service on Lynx Air.
Bring your own snacks, drinks and entertainment if you are flying with a discount carrier. Some low-cost airlines like Lynx Air do not serve food or drinks other than water on flights. Most do not provide entertainment.

Refundable/Changeable Fares

Make sure you understand the cancellation and change policy for the fare before you purchase a flight. At this time, many of the lowest-priced fares on major carriers allow guests to change or cancel without paying a change fee – just the difference in fare. That is often not the case with a discount airline. Some discount airlines charge extra to purchase a policy that allows guests to change their flight dates. Swoop charges a small fee to purchase Modifly, which allows guests to make a one-time change to their flight dates. If you were to catch CoOVID or have cold-like symptoms, you cannot travel and the ability to change or cancel your flight would be invaluable.

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In the News

Flair Airlines has been in the news lately because a preliminary review by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) alleges that too much of the airline is controlled by American interests. Flair must respond to the CTA’s concerns by May 3 after which the company’s operating licence as a Canadian domestic airline could be revoked. Flair is seeking an 18-month exemption from the transportation minister, so it can make changes to address the concerns. The bottom line, if you are purchasing a Flair Airlines ticket for travel beyond May 3, you may be taking a risk until this issue is resolved.

Related: You might also enjoy reading this Lynx Airline Review or this Swoop Airline Review.

Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and national bestselling author. Follow her at www.wanderwoman.ca.  

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