This story was updated on Monday, June 12 at 9:32 a.m. EST
The WestJet Group has confirmed that it will now begin integration efforts of its ultra-low-cost airline Swoop.
In a press release on Friday (June 9), the company said that it anticipates a full integration of Swoop into its mainline operations by the end of October.
“To avoid traveller impact, Swoop will operate its existing network through to the end of its published schedule on October 28,” WestJet said.
Swoop employees will also move to WestJet, the carrier said.
"The WestJet Group is confident in the outcome of this negotiated decision and the path forward to integrate Swoop into WestJet's operations," said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group’s CEO. "We continue our strategy toward providing reliable, affordable travel across the WestJet Group, leveraging the valuable experiences and learnings from the Swoop business model."
Swoop's integration, von Hoensbroech said, will enhance WestJet's ability to serve a "broader spectrum of guests."
"Instead of only 16 aircraft serving the ultra-low-cost market, each aircraft, in our 180-strong fleet, will offer ultra-affordable travel options through to a premium inflight experience," he said.
Swoop, an ultra low-cost carrier owned by WestJet, was announced in September of 2017 and began flights in June of 2018.
Its 16-aircraft fleet is made up of Boeing 737-800 next generation and 737-MAX series, which fly to 32 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Swoop flights, at the start of 2022, were also made available to the trade for booking WestJet Vacations packages.
The integration, which has been somewhat of a rumour up until now, comes as the second collective bargaining agreement between WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing WestJet and Swoop pilots, was ratified.
PAX first became aware of the integration after obtaining a copy of an executive summary of WestJet's tentative deal with its pilots.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, von Hoensbroech said he considered keeping Swoop separate, but decided that higher wages for its flight crews made the option less realistic.
"We were prepared for both possible outcomes, and then decided that, provided the overall didn't make sense, we're actually ready to integrate Swoop into the mainline business,'' von Hoensbroech told CP on Friday.
The CEO noted that WestJet is broadening its ultra-low-cost reach to a "much, much broader network" than it could have ever covered with Swoop.
"So therefore we actually see this as an advantage and as an increased footprint for the ultra-low-cost offering in Canada," von Hoensbroech said.
Bad news for travellers?
One industry expert, however, says the move could be bad news for consumers.
In an interview with CBC News, John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University, said the integration will impact the choices Canadians will have in terms of an alternative ultra-low-cost carrier.
Although it was founded in 1996 as a regionally-focused airline with cheaper prices, WestJet is no longer a discount airline, Gradek pointed out.
"The loss of Swoop basically eliminates a carrier that was specializing in low cost and it's going to be a loss to Canadian travellers," Gradek told the outlet.
Gradek added that he wouldn't be surprised if WestJet did something similar with Sunwing, which it recently purchased.
"WestJet has choices — they're now looking at Sunwing and that's the next shoe that's going to fall," he said. "How far do you take this integration that started with Swoop — do you do the same thing with Sunwing?" Gradek was quoted as saying.
WestJet and ALPA were unable to comment on the Swoop scoop, until now, as the pilot agreement had not yet been ratified by its membership.
The agreement, which will see WestJet pilots receive a 24 per cent hour pay bump over four years, is in effect from Jan. 1, 2023, and will be in place until Dec. 31, 2026.
The new contract also ensures strong job-security protections, and scheduling and quality-of-life improvements, the ALPA said Friday.
"Having this agreement in place will go a long way to solving many of the airline’s labour issues and bring more stability to our operations. I look forward to seeing our airline grow and become a career destination for pilots, once again, which will benefit everyone from our company to our passengers and fellow employees," Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC), told PAX in a statement.
According to the union, of the 95 per cent of eligible pilots who cast ballots, 87 per cent voted in favour of the agreement.