In the wake of criticism that its integration of Swoop and Sunwing Airlines into its mainline will reduce choice and send airfares higher, WestJet has issued a statement reinforcing its commitment to "accessible air and leisure travel."
As Open Jaw has reported, during last fall's regulatory review of WestJet's proposed acquisition of Sunwing, which was approved by Ottawa earlier this year, consumer critics and the government's own Competition Bureau opposed the deal, saying it would make air travel more difficult to access for Canadians.
Consumer critics came out in full force following the news that WestJet Group planned to integrate both its own budget airline Swoop and newly-acquired Sunwing Airlines into its mainline - effectively eliminating those two lower-cost air travel brands.
One such industry observer, John Gradek, a professor with McGill University's aviation management program, told CBC News flatly that the bottom line is that:
“Consumers will have less choice, and consumers will pay more.”
WestJet's statement counters critics. In it, the Group's CEO reiterates previous statements that WestJet's mainline will provide a full range of airfares from lower cost to premium, by "combining the best of every airline across the WestJet Group," including Sunwing Airlines and Swoop, into one product offering.
"We are confident that the future integration of Sunwing Airlines into the WestJet Group, following that of our ultra-low-cost carrier Swoop will significantly enhance our ability to provide affordability and choice to our guests," said Alexis von Hoensbroech.
"The integration of all jets from Sunwing Airlines, Swoop and WestJet into one fleet will provide us with the scale to enhance our collective operational resilience, while offering more affordable fares and vacation opportunities across our entire network."
It also addresses the Group's tour operations. As Open Jaw has reported, tour operator Sunwing Vacations will continue its independent operation, while joining forces with WestJet Vacations and leveraging the larger WestJet air network "to offer most affordable packaged tours to Canadians."
As a result, WestJet claims, both Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations will "significantly expand vacation offerings to even more communities across its extensive network as well as offering affordable vacation packages from communities in Canada on a year-round basis, which were previously seasonal."
That claim addresses some of the "strict and enforceable terms and conditions intended to protect the interests of travellers" and mitigate concerns expressed by the Competition Bureau imposed by Ottawa when it agreed to WestJet's acquisition of Sunwing.
"Furthermore, through leveraging the ultra-low fare products pioneered by Swoop and affordable vacation packages offered by Sunwing Vacations, the WestJet Group will begin providing ultra-affordable fares and increased affordable vacation packages across Canada through the entirety of its 180 aircraft."
"Competition amongst air carriers in Canada has never been healthier and after a challenging three years, aviation is back, with passenger traffic doubling in Canada since March 2022," continued von Hoensbroech in the statement.
"As the strongest airline in Western Canada and the biggest vacation provider across the entire country – the integration of Swoop and eventually Sunwing Airlines into the WestJet Group will enhance affordability and serve to increase choice for Canadians for their air travel and vacation plans."
While the integration of Swoop is anticipated to conclude by the end of October 2023, Sunwing Airlines will not start integrating before 2024 and, as Open Jaw has reported, remains business as usual at this time.