NewLeaf, the latest travel company to take to Canada's skies, takes off Monday at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport with its inaugural flight to Winnipeg.
That first flight is sold out, and many of the first week's departures are near capacity, NewLeaf's president and CEO Jim Young, told trade publication Travelweek on Friday.
After a rocky start caused by licensing issues, NewLeaf finally gained approval to fly its 18 routes in March, and resumed ticket sales last month. NewLeaf, considered to be an ultra-low-cost carrier, is hoping to win over Canadians with domestic ticket prices much lower than those of the country's top carriers. But with those cheap fares comes a full slate of ancillary fees. This will be the country's first real taste of the discount airline model that has become so popular in Europe, where airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet aim to squeeze every penny possible out of fliers and go so far as to put advertisements on air-sickness bags.
So what does a $99 flight to Winnipeg from Hamilton (one way) get you? Here's a primer on what to expect:
Travelling to a major airport? Look elsewhere
NewLeaf launches with 11 destinations, all of which are smaller airports: Halifax; Moncton; Hamilton; Winnipeg; Regina; Saskatoon; Edmonton: Kelowna, B.C.; Kamloops; Abbotsford, B.C.; and Victoria. Welcome news to many Canadians, for sure, but not convenient for travellers headed to major centres such as Toronto and Vancouver (although Hamilton and Abbotsford, respectively, are meant to serve those markets).
Say goodbye to free carry-on
In a bold move, NewLeaf will charge for a large carry-on bag, a fee none of the major Canadian airlines have dared introduce. A small personal item is allowed, but with a maximum measurement of 16 cm x 33 cm x 43 cm (6 inches x 13 inches x 17 inches) and weight of 10 kg (22 pounds), you'll have to be a pro packer to make that work for even a long weekend getaway. I think we can all agree that it's never going to happen for a winter trip to Winnipeg. (Charges are waived for medical devices and diaper bags.)
A larger carry-on, maximum size 23 cm x 40 cm x 55 cm (9 inches x 15.5 inches x 21.5 inches), will cost $31.50 to $34.50 at the time of booking, roughly $10 more at check-in and a whopping $84 to $92 at the gate. In comparison, Air Canada, WestJet and Porter all allow a free personal item and a larger carry-on bag for domestic flights.
Interestingly, the company charges less for a checked bag. (Carry-on luggage slows down the boarding process, the website explains.) Prices for the first bag – 158 cm (62 inches) in total linear dimensions, max weight 23 kg (50 pounds) – range from $26.25 at booking to $80 at the gate. Air Canada, WestJet and Porter all charge between $25 and $28 for checked baggage on domestic flights, and Porter does increase the price slightly if you wait to pay at the airport.
And still more fees
Like most airlines nowadays you will pay for advance seat selection, from $10.50 to sit in the back half of the plane to $28.75 for an exit row with extra leg room. You'll also pay for the privilege of boarding early, between $10.50 and $17.25. Again, prices in both those cases go up if you wait until check-in. Really, the lesson here is be prepared, since even printing your boarding pass at the airport will cost you $10, as opposed to doing so for free at home. One fee that does seem like a bargain is the TravelFLEX option for $20, which (if bought in advance, of course), lets you change your reservation once or postpone the trip entirely for no additional penalty (otherwise you're looking at a minimum of $78.75; you are always still responsible for any difference in price). Most airlines charge a minimum of $50, assuming it's even an option with a lowest-fare ticket.
Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and snacks will all be available for purchase during flights.
A familiar fleet
NewLeaf is flying Boeing 737-400s, an older model of the most common passenger jets in the skies today. Seating is three-by-three, with one central aisle. If you're paying for seat selection, the cheapest spots are in rows 14 and back. Kelowna-based Flair Airlines, whose other clients have included the Canadian Department of National Defence, Sunwing, Transat and various corporations and sports teams, will operate the flights and supply crew.
An earlier version of this story stated that NewLeaf's inaugural flight was destined for Moncton, and that the travel company would offer 12 destinations. In fact, the inaugural flight was destined for Winnipeg and NewLeaf is offering 11 destinations.