Upstart Canadian "ultra-low-cost carrier" Swoop is making its first push into the United States, revealing plans Thursday to fly seven routes from five U.S. airports.
The airline’s first U.S. flights start Oct. 11, when Swoop launches non-stop service between Las Vegas and Edmonton. The carrier will add six more U.S.-Canada routes by the end of October. In addition to Las Vegas, Swoop’s new U.S. destinations will include Fort Lauderdale; Orlando; Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona; and Tampa.
Swoop says it will become the first ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) to start service to the U.S. Steven Greenway, Swoop's president, points to the growth of U.S. discounters as proof that the American market is ready for an airline like Swoop.
“Swoop's success in the Canadian ULCC space combined with the evident success of ULCCs in the U.S. affirms that North American travelers are ready for an airline to open up the border to ultra-low-cost air travel,” Greenway says in a statement.
Swoop began flying just this past June and currently serves five Canadian destinations: Abbotsford, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Hamilton, Ontario; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Two of those destinations are secondary airports within bigger metro areas. Abbotsford is located along the U.S. border and sits just about 40 miles from Vancouver. Hamilton is a large city in its own right, but its airport also sits just 50 miles from downtown Toronto – Canada’s most-populous city.
Swoop is a wholly owned subsidiary of WestJet, a low-cost carrier that’s grown during the past two decades to become Canada’s second-biggest airline. As it has grown, however, WestJet has begun to more closely resemble a traditional carrier. It now has multiple aircraft types operating its routes, for example, and has unveiled plans for a business-class cabin on its new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft that will begin arriving in early 2019.
Still, Swoop and WestJet operate as separate stand-alone brands. Despite that, however, Swoop will take over four routes that had previously been operated by parent company WestJet. They are Edmonton-Las Vegas; Hamilton-Las Vegas; Hamilton-Orlando and Edmonton-Phoenix/Mesa.
"With a completely unbundled offering, Swoop is the right airline for travelers on these routes as it will allow those looking for ultra-low-cost flying to pay for what they want, and nothing that they don’t," WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart says in an e-mail to USA TODAY's Today in the Sky blog. "Even with these routes being added to Swoop, WestJet’s capacity has continued to grow in 2018."
Stewart adds: "Swoop is the airline that will allow the WestJet Group of Companies to compete against other ULCCs and serve our markets appropriately, ensuring the continued growth and expansion of WestJet into a global airline."
For now, Swoop’s fleet consists of just six Boeing 737 jets. Three more are scheduled to arrive by October, giving Swoop the aircraft it needs to launch the U.S. routes.
“There has been a lot of interest in our plans for the remaining three aircraft we receive this year and revealing this schedule today is a proud moment for the whole Swoop team," Greenway says.
Four more Boeing 737s are expected to arrive by early 2019, growing Swoop’s fleet to 10 aircraft. That will fuel more growth for the carrier, though the company has so far declined to offer specifics about where it's looking.
Swoop spokeswoman Karen McIsaac tells Today in the Sky that could be in Canada, the U.S. or possibly to destinations in the Caribbean that appeal to Canadian travelers.
What to expect when flying Swoop
Swoop is an “ultra-low-cost carrier,” operating under a bare-bones model that U.S. travelers might be familiar with from airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.
Such carriers offer cheap base fares, but charge extra for nearly everything beyond boarding the flight. Everything from advance seat assignments to water come with a fee. So do bags, whether they’re checked or need to be stowed in an overhead storage bin. On Swoop, checked bags start at $26.25 Canadian (about $20 U.S.) while large carry-on bags cost $36.75 Canadian (about $28 U.S.) and up.
Connections are not offered.
Swoop’s Boeing 737s will seat 189 passengers with a seat pitch of 29” in standard coach seats. That “seat pitch” – an industry measure for the space between seats – is one of the tightest of all North American carriers. Extra-legroom seats are available, for a fee.
Advance-seat assignments start at $10.50 Canadian (about $8 U.S.) each way when reserved at booking and top out at $31.50 Canadian (about $24 U.S.) each way for extra-legroom seats reserved after booking.
In listing its seat-selection fees, Swoop runs the pricing under a heading reading "Keep the group together." The description continues: "Guarantee you sit together by selecting your seats. If you wait, seats will be randomly assigned at check-in if you don’t select one."
One amenity that Swoop will offer is streaming movies and TV and Wi-Fi connectivity for travelers with personal electronic devices. There will be a charge for Wi-Fi access, though the streaming option initially will be free on U.S. routes. Eventually, however, a charge is expected for streaming services.
Scroll down for details on all seven of Swoop’s new U.S.-Canada routes. All are scheduled to operate through the end of Swoop’s winter schedule, which runs through April 27. McIsaac says it has not yet been determined if any or all of the routes will continue beyond that as year-round service.
Service begins Oct. 11; Swoop will fly 11 flights a week
Las Vegas-Abbotsford, British Columbia
Service begins Oct. 11; Swoop will fly 3 flights a week (Monday, Thursday, Sunday)
Las Vegas-Hamilton, Ontario
Service begins Oct. 26; Swoop will fly 4 flights a week (Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday)
Service begins Oct. 27; Swoop will fly 2 flights a week (Wednesday, Saturday)
Fort Lauderdale-Hamilton, Ontario
Service begins Oct. 26; Swoop will fly 2 flights a week (Friday, Saturday)
Service begins Oct. 17; Swoop will fly 3 flights a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday)
Service begins Oct. 20; Swoop will fly 3 flights a week (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday)