Toronto-NewYork airline wars: fun to see but how much will consumers benefit?
The fight for the Big Apple is on.
The smackdown started Wednesday when Air Canada announced it was launching three-times daily, non-stop folights between Toronto Pearson and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, starting May 3. It also said it was increasing to every hour (14 in all, actually) its flights from YYZ to LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Friday morning, WestJet upped the ante - big time - when it announced that all eight of the landing/takeoff slots it won late last year at LaGuardia (and paid dearly for) would be used for flights in and out of Toronto Pearson. They'll start with seven flights a day on June 4 and add an eighth non-stop on July 12.
A few hours after that missive came a "watch this" note from Porter Airlines, saying they were adding two more flights a day between the Toronto Island Airport and Newark International in New Jersey, a short Metro/tram/train ride from Manhattan. That brings the number of daily flights from the island to Newark to 13. Porter also said it's providing more convenient morning, afternoon and evening departure times, although I haven't seen details.
The first new Porter flight starts March 26, with a second flight beginning April 16. They also said they'll have additional weekend options as of March 25 but, again, no details were provided.
New York, of course, is a huge business market. As is Toronto. And WestJet has been carefully cultivating business travelers. In addition to the New York flights, they've increased service between Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa. Air Canada, of course, now flies to Montreal out of the island airport in Toronto and has been offering some of the same freebies that made Porter's name, including free alcoholic drinks on board those flights.
It's terribly fun to watch. And certainly it's going to make New York even more attractive and convenient. Hotwire.com did a study (see Saturday's Travel section for details) recently and found that Canadians were searching for great Family Day deals for New York more than they were for any other city. New YOrk City's tourism folks just announced this week that they exceeded expectations and drew 50.5 million visitors last year; the highest mark ever.
As I said, these extra flights certainly make it even easier to get to the New York area. Air Canada's peak schedule (as of May 3) will have 14 flights a day from Toronto to LaGuardia, six a day to Newark and three daily to JFK for 23 in all. WestJet is adding eight Toronto-LaGuardia flights, while Porter announced 13 daily flights are coming soon.
That means a total of 44 flights a day from the Big Smoke to the Big Apple, or nearby airports. And that's just on the Canadian-based airlines. You also can use the likes of United, Continental, American and Delta to get to the New York area from Toronto.
It's amusing to read how the three Canadian airlines try to distinguish themselves pat themselves on the back.
Air Canada says it's "strengthening (its) leading position in New York City" and points out that its hourly New York flights are "ideally-suited for business travelers." They also point out folks can access Maple Leaf or Star Alliance lounges and note that the flights from Toronto to LaGuardia and Newark feature Executive Class "the only Canadian airline offering business class service."
WestJet isn't letting the challenge go unheeded. They call themselves "Canada's favourite airline" and says the new Toronto-New York flights "will offer business and leisure travelers alike the convenience, comfort and affordability they've been looking for."
WestJet says fares starting at $49 (plus taxes and fees) will be available starting Monday, Jan. 30 at www.westjet.com or by calling 1-888-WESTJET or talking to your travel agent. With taxes and fees, WestJet's Robert Palmer said, it would be $136 each way, or $272 round trip. That's an excellent price. I checked on Air Canada and it was about $385 return in late June. Porter, without any promotion codes, was about $475 return.
For its part, Porter trumpets that it has "the fastest available travel time between downtown Toronto and downtown Manhattan." They also say their service from Toronto Island to Newark "provides the most convenient access to New York's financial district," which I'm not quite sure about. Then again, it's vague enough that it would be hard to dispute.
Porter also brags about its "luxurious airport lounges" (they ARE quite nice), Starbucks coffee, premium snacks (the shortbreads and oatmeal cookies are quite good at the Island Airport) and wine or beer on board.
I'm not sure Air Canada or Porter will match the WestJet $49 fare. I got a note shortly before noon from Peter Fitzpatrick at Air Canada and was rather vague, which makes me think they're not going to try to match the fare, at least not at this point.