Canada’s airline industry is incredibly competitive. Small regional airlines have the opportunity to become major international giants, while flagship airliners sometimes crumble and disappear under a mountain of debt. A few of the best, however, manage to fight it out in this vicious market, and those household names are presented here!
Air Canada is the largest airline and the flag carrier of Canada. A member of the Star Alliance network, Air Canada operates over 204 aircraft and flies to over 150 destinations around the globe.
Air Canada also has a history of never losing a single plane or, for that matter, a single life. Founded in 1936, Air Canada was known at Trans-Canada Airlines and was a subsidiary of the Canadian National Railroad. Their first planes were two Lockheed-Martin Model 10 Electras (now vintage museum pieces).
In 1942, at the height of World War 2, the Canadian government separated the airline from the railroad and Air Canada in its modern form was born. Transcontinental flights to Europe, South America and Asia followed after the end of hostilities in 1945. Air Canada purchased its first jet-powered airliner in 1954 and became the first airline in the world to update its entire fleet to jet turbine engines. By the 1970s Air Canada was operating the third largest fleet of passenger aircraft in North America.
In the 1990s Air Canada bought out its major competitor, Canadian Airlines, and became the sole international carrier in Canada. The public was none too happy about this, seeing Air Canada as having monopoly control over a quickly-growing travel market. Competition for Canada’s skies didn’t open up again until WestJet and Air Transat came along, and American Airlines expanded flights into Canada. Since then, Air Canada has been remaining competitive with its pricing and service, and in 2004 began to modernize its aging fleet of Boeings with the newest Airbus models.
Air Canada has won several prestigious international awards for comfort, safety and service, including “Best Airline” from Star Alliance in 2009 and “Best Airline in North America” five years in a row.
Based out of Montreal, Quebec, Air Transat is a fairly new player in Canada’s airline industry, but through aggressive expansion they offer flights to over 25 international destinations, mostly in Europe, the US, and the Caribbean. Air Transat is the third largest airline in Canada after Air Canada and WestJet, booking over 3 million passengers per year.
Air Transat is quickly growing into a major international player through highly-competitive pricing and by adding new destinations every year. It often teams up with Thomas Cook Vacations to offer inclusive-packages with flights, and has recently begun offering inter-European flights for select destinations.
Air Canada Jazz
As Air Canada faced stiffening competition among smaller, local airlines, the company decided to create a subsidiary to offer connections to smaller airports within Canada. Thus, Air Canada Jazz was born.
Established in 2001, Jazz Airlines was an independent operator based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia until it was purchased by Air Canada in 2002.
SunWing is a vacation-oriented airline, flying to sunny destinations in the Caribbean, USA and Mexico. It is one of the newest airlines in Canada and is quickly growing to be the #1 vacation-destination airline. SunWing won the Earnst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2008.
Founded in 1996 as a small, budget airline, WestJet has experienced phenomenal growth to become the 2nd largest carrier in Canada, and rivals Air Canada in terms of the number of passengers it carries per year. WestJet operates a fleet of over 100 next-generation Boeings and flies to over 70 destinations in 15 countries.
WestJet has won several awards during its meteoric climb to success, including the “Airline Staff Service Excellence” award in 2010. One of WestJet’s differences from other airlines is that it offers no executive class flying privileges. Every passenger flies in economy class. WestJet also offers WestJet lounges at select airports, mainly Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. For a nominal fee guests can wait for their flight to board in a WestJet lounge, which comes complete with food and alcohol, wifi and television.
WestJet is poised to rival Air Canada for international flights in the near future. Currently WestJet flies only to North American destinations, but rumors in the aviation industry has it that WestJet is negotiating with London Gatwick and may commence flights to Europe soon.
The newest of Canada’s regional airlines, Porter has quickly become one of passenger’s favourites. Porter is talked about by people, the media and on the web as having the single best passenger experience of any airline.
Porter was established in 2006, offering cheap, no-nonsense flights from Toronto’s smaller Billy Bishop Regional Airport to select destinations such as Ottawa and Halifax. In a few short years it has expanded to include many other Canadian airports.
One of the unique aspects of Porter is the Porter lounges, which all ticket-holders have access to free of charge. These lounges are set up next to the departure gate and include plush, comfortable sofas, free magazines and newspapers, wifi, television, complimentary food and beverages and private toilets. Porter also specializes in customer service, and has used word of mouth and only a little advertising to expand rapidly from a small regional airline to a growing favourite of Canadian travellers.
Porter is poised to compete directly with Air Canada Jazz and WestJet for inter-Canadian flights in the near future. Prices, service, comfort and convenience are the tools Porter is using to become a major player in a very competitive market.