In August 2021, pandemic news was looking more positive than it had for a very long time. Canadians were being vaccinated at very high rates, and public officials in most provinces were cautiously optimistic while still trying to control breakthrough infections and the emerging variants. Domestic travel restrictions were being eased and vaccine passports were being implemented across the country. My feet were itchy and my wanderlust was burning.
It was a nice morning when a great fare to Montreal was highlighted by YVR Deals. My BFF and ATB#1, Mady, happens to live almost next door to YUL (Montreal, Quebec). It seemed like a lifetime since she and I had had the opportunity to sit in the same space to laugh, tell stories, and fix the world. A trip for a low-key hang out in a private setting seemed like a good way to begin my return to travel... and early October worked. There would be crisp fall colours but no snow. I like snow when it's at ski resorts. Otherwise, not so much.
The fare that caught my eye was offered by a Canadian low-cost airline, Flair Airlines, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta. Although many of Flair's advertised prices do not include a carry-on bag this particular deal included both a personal bag and a carry-on. A checked bag and seat selection would cost more. A checked bag would cost less at purchase than it would at the airport. The cost for the bag increases as the flight nears with the rate going from $30CAD to $80CAD for each of the flights. (Be aware that other Flair passengers have reported that it is cheaper to pay for a checked bag than to pay for a carry-on bag.)
Online Check-In Seat selection was available for an extra charge. Being unsure of pandemic protocols, I wondered if careful seat selection might allow me to sit in an empty row or at least have a seat between me and another passenger. I like a seat near the doors so I can try to be first on/first off. When that's not possible I sit far in the back and wait until everyone else is out. On this flight, however, I was more concerned with trying to figure out which seat to choose to increase my chances of an empty seat beside me. The cost of seat selection didn't seem to increase with delay, so I put off that decision until the week of the flight when I paid $26 each for seat 2A on both inbound and outbound flights. On the outbound flight that seat was bulkhead (a surprise since the diagram showed a row ahead) but inbound it was the second row.
The online check-in and website navigation was very easy and smooth. The only issue I had was when I accidentally clicked past the COVID questionnaire and was prevented from completing my check-in. After multiple retries, I was able to correct the user error and carry on. The pages are well designed and provide prompts to make the process and download of documents very easy. I arrived at both terminals approximately 2 hours before departure, quickly located the bag drop-off area and easily completed the check-in process. I did not use their poorly reviewed app.
During the flights, there was no food/beverage service (due to Covid), no entertainment system, nor a French-speaking crew. A pre-Covid menu found online shows prices for light snacks and soft drinks. The seats did not recline -- a positive for me, as I hate sitting behind a fully reclined seat. On both flights the attendants in my section of the plane spent the bulk of the flight behind curtains, seated and talking amongst each other (loud enough to be heard by first passenger rows). The crew rarely walked the cabin nor did they engage passengers except when standing at the cabin doors at arrival/departure. On both flights, attendants prepared enticingly scented hot meals for their lunch. Not sure what was prepared on the flight back to YVR, but the flight attendants seemed to be enjoying their very social dinner break! Both flights arrived approximately 20 minutes early. The baggage arrived at the carousel promptly, although it took a bit longer at YVR (late night arrival).
Due to a chronic medical condition, I'm extremely vulnerable to respiratory illnesses. I am double-vaxxed and follow social distancing and masking guidelines but need to be more cautious than most people since even a mild case of any respiratory illness is more likely to escalate into a major health event. I have been vigilant, and my adult kids have made decisions in their lives to keep their exposure risks very low to protect me. I am hyper-aware of pandemic protocols yet I am not so vulnerable that I need to take isolating actions. Everyone wore masks. Most wore them properly, over the nose and snug. I didn't see any evidence of mask objectors. Vax passports were not yet required for domestic travel when I flew in early October. Security people, staff, and crew were trying hard to keep strict distancing protocols but passengers were constantly breaching the barriers with their hands, poking their heads around the plexiglass, ignoring line marks, and/or crowding other passengers. The lack of food and beverage service was due to Covid. It was clear that any empty seats were due to a lack of passengers, not for distancing protocols. Throughout the airports, I saw lots of signs declaring that "enhanced cleaning" was happening, and reminding everyone about social distancing. On the outbound flight, it was obvious that there was no time for cleaning -- we loaded almost immediately after inbound passengers disembarked from the flight.
Bottom Line for the Budget Traveller
Flair doesn't pretend to be anything beyond what it is: a discount airline to fit your budget travel need. There is no business or first-class sections on their flights. The advertised price gets you and a personal bag (handbag) a seat in the plane from Point A to Point B. Everything else adds to that low price. As a budget traveller, I got what I paid for. The fare was good, upsales weren't bad if chosen at purchase. My entire cost was $297.58. Comparable economy fares on other airlines with taxes, fees, 1 checked bag + seat selection ranged from $475 - $500. Low price, however, is not always the deciding factor -- at least, not for domestic or short-hop flights.
I am not a huge fan of discount airlines. I'm small so I don't need a big seat. I don't need business or first class service but even in economy class, I expect a checked bag, carry-on, and personal item to be included in the quoted price. I don't want to be nickeled and dimed and it always annoys me when these aren't included. I notice the price-elevating tricks used, such as charging each extra by flight, or increasing prices as flight time nears. I understand that COVID has encouraged less interaction between crew and passengers but I expect some engagement from the crew. My flight experience with Flair was very straightforward. The design of North American airports make the experience much more pleasant than European discount flights. If Flair continues to offer significant savings, I will use them again on their current routes. I can easily give up airline food, reclining seats, and in-flight entertainment systems for the savings offered on domestic flights.
People were not socially distanced in security or boarding lines. I saw no evidence of "enhanced cleaning" at either airport or on the planes. I'm also watching the global infection numbers continue to be of concern in many of the destinations on my list. I'm not quite ready for unlimited plane travel yet. As of November 30, Canada will require all travellers to be vaccinated but that is not true everywhere. As the world continues to struggle to corral this virus I choose not to interact closely with unvaccinated people. I choose to avoid companies and destinations where vaccination is not a requirement. I will have my booster shot within a couple of weeks and although increased protection will bring a greater feeling of health security, I think I'll stick to road trips for the next little while. I'm almost ready. Recent chats with both of Approved Travel Buddies have confirmed that there will be overseas travel in 2022. Our feet are itchy. Our wanderlust addiction is screaming to be fed. Springtime is a great time to travel.
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