Trip Review: Flying Flair Airline’s Boeing 737 During COVID-19

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Last week I had the chance to fly as a guest of Flair Airlines from Vancouver to Calgary. As provinces continue to ease travel restrictions and many Canadians are starting to book domestic flights for their summer plans, we felt that this would be an excellent opportunity to experience Canada’s only ultra-low-cost-carrier and report on the journey for those considering flying with the airline. All prices listed below are in Canadian dollars.

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The aircraft was a 10-year-old Boeing 737-800, which had previously flown for Air Berlin and Siam Air. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Booking and price

While on this particular trip, I was privileged to fly as a guest of the airline. However, I did want to report on the pricing for the journey – especially as it compares to the competition. The timings of flights did not seem to alter pricing very much. Across the board, WestJet and Air Canada’s flights were nearly double the cost.

The downside with Flair is the frequency, having, in most cases, a once-daily service. In comparison, Air Canada and WestJet fly multiple times, both ways throughout the day.

Trip review price comparison
Flair’s competing flights are about 70% more. Photo: Skyscanner

So you might be asking, “what’s the catch?” when flying for substantially less. The picture becomes clearer when you go through the booking process on Flair’s website.

You’ll see that the base fare only includes a personal item. Flair defines this as:

“…something like a laptop bag or a purse smaller than 16 cm x 33 cm x 43 cm (6 in x 13 in x 17 in) and weighting a maximum of 7 kg (15.5 lb).”

Flair Airlines booking
At the time of writing, a carry-on bag costs $36.75 for each flight, while a checked bag is $31.50 per flight. Competing airline fares include a carry-on bag. Photo: Flair Airlines Website
Flair Airlines booking
Priority boarding and making your ticket flexible are add-ons that can be purchased for an extra fee. At this time, Priority Boarding is not an option that can be purchased due to special COVID-19 boarding procedures (back to front loading). Photo: Flair Airlines Website
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You can save by purchasing several add-ons in a bundle. Photo: Flair Airlines Website
Flair Airlines booking
Seat-selection is another add-on that can be purchased. Photo: Flair Airlines Website

The airport process

From at-home check-in to boarding the aircraft, the experience was fairly smooth. I checked-in online the day before my flight and received my boarding pass via email. While this was once seen as a feature, it very much is the norm now – especially when it comes to budget airlines.

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Flair charges a service fee (currently $15) “when airport staff must complete a service that otherwise could have been done by the passenger.” This fee can be avoided by “checking in online and downloading your boarding pass to your phone or printing it at home,” their website notes.

In comparison to Ryanair, this is relatively cheap as the Irish carrier charges as much as £55 (C$94) per passenger per sector!

YVR Domestic departures
Due to service reduction by many airlines, Vancouver Airport decided to shut down the domestic check-in desks, shifting activity towards the International Departures area. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Plexiglass barriers were set-up at check-in desks. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

At every stage of the pre-flight experience at the airport, you could see changes designed to work with the risk of COVID-19. Select seats in the terminal were blocked off to ensure everyone was adequately spaced, and all airport lounges were closed.

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YVR Gate
The seating at YVR’s Domestic Terminal. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Boarding the aircraft

The boarding process has changed drastically due to coronavirus. The gate agent first informed us that although the aircraft had arrived, there would be an additional 10-15 minutes required to ensure proper sanitation of the aircraft. Following this, we were informed of a modified boarding procedure.

Similar to many other airlines these days, boarding is strictly conducted from back to front. For Flair, this is done five rows at a time, with all other rows encouraged to sit down until called.

YVR Boarding
Boarding is conducted five rows at a time, back to front. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

At the same time that IDs are checked, all passengers are asked several questions about their health and how they are feeling. Finally, before boarding, all passengers have their temperatures taken.

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The flying experience

The flight from Vancouver to Calgary is incredibly short. Once we reached cruising altitude, there wasn’t much time for me to open up my laptop to get some work done before having to pack it away for the descent.

There was no complimentary food or beverage served, nor was there any available for purchase. There would normally be food and beverage service (for purchase) regardless of flight-length, but this has been suspended due to COVID-19.

The major airlines these days don’t offer complimentary snacks on short flights either but may have food available for purchase.

Flair Airlines cabin
For a domestic flight, the cabin is not much different from its full-service competitors. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
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Legroom in the Comfort Choice section was great, even with my backpack under the seat in front of me. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
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Clear evidence that this 737 was once operated by Air Berlin. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

During the entire flight, the staff were pleasant and courteous; all of them having positive attitudes. With the absence of any snack or beverage service, and zero issues with baggage or the seat, my interaction with the cabin crew was minimal.

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Flight Review
The crew decided to perform a go-around, likely due to windy conditions. Photo: FlightRadar24.com
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This particular flight was flying from Vancouver to Calgary to Toronto. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Considering Flair Airlines? What you should know

As the major Canadian carriers have made their domestic services fairly basic, Flair Airlines stands out as a competitive alternative, which will allow travelers to save money without any decline in the actual flight experience.

Like many European low-cost carriers, the airfare is very much ‘unbundled’ and passengers will have to make conscious decisions to pay extra for what they need, or else cut back on what they pack with them.

The approach into Calgary offered a great view of the city on the aircraft’s left side. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

This is particularly true when it comes to purchasing a carry-on bag. Many passengers these days may be used to having a carry-on included as part of the basic fare. However, this is an add-on with Flair Airlines.

This could indeed cost you more than $70 extra for a return trip. However, if you are able to pack light, then you have a great opportunity to save money by only bringing a bag that will fit under the seat in front of you. If you’re traveling as a couple or group, you would then have the flexibility to purchase one checked-bag to carry everyone’s belongings.

Furthermore, at $10.50 per flight, the TravelFlex option seems like a great way to protect yourself against last-minute changes, allowing for a one time change or cancel for no extra charge except for the fare difference. Without this option, a flight change would cost $125.

The verdict

My first and only experience with Flair was great. Comparing it to a full-service carrier like WestJet or Air Canada, the ultra-low-cost-experience isn’t too different when flying domestic. Unlike some European budget airlines, Flair actually flies to the main city airports, which is a huge bonus. This was a pleasant surprise as I might have expected to fly out of Abbotsford instead of Vancouver at such a low price.

Furthermore, the flight times listed seem to be quite civil compared to other low-fare experiences, some of which mean early morning departures, or late-night arrivals.

Ultimately, if Flair Airlines’ passengers are aware of the fees associated with carry-on baggage, seat-selection, airport-check-in, and more, then there shouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises with the travel experience. If you can pack light and navigate the extra charges, you can save quite a lot when flying within Canada – something that’s all the more important if you’re traveling as a large family.

Did this flight review help you understand Flair Airlines better? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment. 

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