Simon Calder: The cost of a Canadian connection
The man who pays his way
Saturday 26 February 2011
Go and lie down in a darkened room until you feel better: that is my standard response when, as happens from time to time, I am asked for advice on starting an airline. Flying people from A to B usually results in fortunes, large and small, being squandered rather than made.
If you happen to have access to a medium-sized, mid-haul aircraft this summer, though, I will gladly tell you where to put it: on the shortest – and this year probably the most profitable – transatlantic route.
The destination is St John's, an exquisite little city that provides the most colourful gateway to the barely tamed wilderness of Newfoundland – a province out of kilter with the rest of the Canada. The island joined the nation only in 1949, and remains defiantly half-an-hour adrift from its neighbours.
Try to book a non-stop flight from Heathrow to St John's for the summer and the least you will pay is £684 return. On Saturdays in August, you will barely get any change out of £1,000 to reach the main airport in Newfoundland. And all this for a total there-and-back journey time of under 11 hours aboard a narrow-bodied Airbus A319. This is the same duration, and plane, that easyJet shuttles between Manchester and Sharm El Sheikh – peak fare, £400 return. Perhaps Britain's original no-frills airline should point its planes west, not east.
As you will read on the following three pages, the appeal of America is boundless. But Canada is closer and, at least in terms of formalities, far friendlier. That is why I started planning a summer trip there – but soon deleted Newfoundland from the itinerary when I discovered how high the fares are. Why does Air Canada face no competition on the route to St John's? That's the question I put to Kathryn Munro, marketing director of Canadian Affair.
If anyone was going to give Canada's flag-carrier a run for its money, it would be this organisation, which runs a wide range of UK-Canada flights. But not, at least in the current climate, to St John's: "We are 100 per cent leisure, and this is a route that would be profitable for only five weeks each summer," she told me. "Air Canada is a network carrier, with business traffic, and can make the route work with connecting passengers through the Star Alliance." (I checked; starting your August journey to St John's in Edinburgh will cost you an extra £200.)
Right, so let's look at another maritime Canada province that does benefit from flight competition from the UK: Nova Scotia, with an equally impressive range of natural and man-made attractions. An August a return flight from Heathrow to Halifax could cost you £950 on Air Canada. With Canadian Affair from Gatwick, that falls by £300 – the company has just put bigger planes on the route, creating lots more seats to fill. But there's a catch: you can fly on any day you like as long as it's Thursday.
For those constrained to flying at weekends, there is an alternative – in the shape of Icelandair. The summer Saturday fare from Heathrow to Halifax is a mere £624 return. Agreed, the plane change in Reykjavik is a bit of a palaver, but on the way home you can opt to extend the stopover to 11 hours – bestowing a bonus summer's day, from 5am to 4pm, on which to explore Iceland's capital. Or you could wallow in the Blue Lagoon, 15 minutes from the airport, and dream of starting an airline.
Fair fares for low-cost flying
Airlines could rarely be accused of making too much money, but if you feel that the summer profit margins look too high, take advantage of the low-season bargains on Britain’s no-frills airlines.This week I bought a ticket on Ryanair from Stansted to the fine German city of Bremen, paying £20 return for flights shortly before Easter; £12 of that goes straight to the Chancellor (ours, not Germany’s) in Air Passenger Duty. But the boss of Spain’s leading low-cost airline, Alex Cruz of Vueling, says the days of selling below cost are numbered:“
For years we have been told that in order to be successful in this place you need to be rude to passengers. You need to have very low costs, very low fares - that’s the only way out. We don’t believe in that. Vueling is very well placed to be successful and it’s enjoying high margins.”
Vueling remains the only low-cost airline from Heathrow. For the rest of Senor Cruz’s thoughts, see independent.co.uk/alexcruz.
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