MIAMI – On July 8, 2021, Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Flair Airlines (F8) announced its intention to expand service to the United States. Up until that point, the carrier had served over 20 destinations within Canada bringing competitive low fares to Canadians from coast to coast.

During its pre-pandemic growth in 2019, the carrier had started an expansion to the US but due to demand and the onset of the pandemic, F8 pulled out of serving the southern market. With the addition of the Boeing 737-8 aircraft, the airline is once again ready to expand its service south of the Canadian border.

On December 17, 2021, the carrier inaugurated service to Palm Springs, California from the west coast city of Vancouver, British Columbia (CYVR). The same day the newest Flair destination also inaugurated service to the airline’s headquarter city of Edmonton, Alberta, (CYEG).

Flair Airlines inaugural Palm Springs flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

Palm Springs

The destination is the second city to be served in the state of California along with Hollywood Burbank (KBUR). The airline hopes to connect the United States and Canada with more economic airfare for travelers from both of the neighboring countries.

Palm Springs is a city of over 47,000 and is home to many Canadian snowbirds who travel south in the winter for sunnier and warmer weather. The city also has several resorts and golf courses that attract tourism year-round. The city and its surrounding area attract tourists from both domestic and international destinations which is part of the market F8 is trying to target with the addition of this route.

From Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver the Californian city will be served seasonally during the winter months providing relief from the frigid winter temperatures.

During the inaugural gate event inside the Palm Springs Airport (PSP), Mayor Christy Holstege said she was so excited to welcome the new airline to the airport and community. She mentioned how excited she was to be welcoming Canadians back to the United States while also providing Palm Springs locals the opportunity to visit and experience what Canada has to offer.

Palm Springs mayor Christy Holstege speaks at the gate event celebrating the flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

US Border Pre-Clearance

When asked about the significance of the new introduction of Palm Springs, Garth Lund, F8’s Chief Commercial Officer said that, “Palm Springs is a great destination, particularly in the winter time, so we will be serving it from a number of points”. He continued by mentioning “we have Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto which will be the only service this winter between Toronto and Palm Springs so there is of course demand there.”

The inaugural flight to Palm Springs was flight F8 from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to PSP on December 17, 2021. The flight departed Vancouver from F8’s E gates, which hold all of the flights to the United States. The terminal features US Border Pre-Clearance that allows for travelers to clear customs prior to leaving Canada.

Most major airports within Canada offer this service, which makes flying between the destinations fairly seamless, and means no additional processing is required upon arriving at your destination. The airline is responsible for ensuring all COVID-19 protocols for entry are met and I was not asked to provide any additional COVID screening information at the border control checkpoint.

For entry to the United States in early December, I was required to provide proof of a negative test (either PCR or antigen) within 24 hours of my departure time from Canada.

Flair Airlines inaugural 737-8 sitting at the walk out gates in Palm Springs. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

Boarding and Takeoff

Past security and border control the boarding lounge was quiet in the early hours of the morning. There was a short delay for boarding due to the time constraint for passengers to clear security. Security opened at 0430 and our flight was scheduled to start boarding at 0515 which provided very little time for all checked-in passengers to clear the necessary security.

However due to the light passenger load on the inaugural service boarding was a short process and we were able to push back quickly. The load factor on the inaugural flight was around 30-40% full on the outbound and 15-20% on the inbound load. Since the inaugural flight, these load numbers have increased as demand has grown and return travelers have begun taking full advantage of the service.

After a quick de-ice spray for overnight frost, we departed into the west-coast sunrise cruising at a level of 41,000 feet. One of the unique aspects of the flight to Palm Springs is the necessary routing to avoid restricted airspace over the edge of Nevada. On the inbound flight, the routing took us to the west over the coastline while on the return to Vancouver we traveled east of the restricted zone over the interior of Nevada.

Flair Airlines inaugural Palm Springs flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

Cruise and Approach

Once at cruise altitude, the in-flight crew came around with Flair’s inflight purchase service. All items were available for purchase and included a reasonable selection of snacks and drinks although no light meal service is currently provided. This is the first month that this service has returned to the skies as most were unavailable due to the pandemic during the early stages of 2021.

The F8 flight attendants and staff were all very helpful and friendly which made for an enjoyable and seamless experience throughout the entire flight.

A new feature available onboard the F8 aircraft new in-flight entertainment system available through their unique app. The service offered some video, reading material, games, and a buy-on-board menu. This service does not include any movies or television shows as it currently stands; however, documentaries or productions from the Canadian National Film Board are available.

The highlight of the app is the access to phone games like Cut The Rope, 2044, and many more which are free and enjoyable to use on this longer two-and-a-half-hour flight.

The approach into the Palm Springs airport is one of the more enjoyable approaches as you descend over the mountains and desert that supported the area. The palm trees and golf courses also come into view as you touch down into the PSP airport. The F8 flights all depart from the walk out gates at the PSP, which makes for a fantastic view of the aircraft and outdoor area.

Flair Airlines inaugural Palm Springs flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

Palm Springs Airport

A major highlight of PSP was the outdoor areas past security that help connect the terminals and provide opportunities for fresh air while waiting to board your aircraft. After deplaning, the PSP and F8 staff provided passengers with cookies and sunglasses to help commemorate the launch of this new service.

Flair Airlines has continued its rapid expansion into the United States throughout the last few months and currently serves six destinations. The low-cost carrier is now serving Hollywood Burbank, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando Stanford, Phoenix-Mesa, and Fort Lauderdale.

The airline also plans to continue the expansion into 2022 serving Denver, San Francisco, Nashville, Chicago, and New York. The new expansion will offer these routes from several Canadian airports and will hopefully be successful as travel demand continues into the new year.

Flair Airlines inaugural Palm Springs flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways

Hoping for a Summer Uptick

However, in recent weeks, the international travel market from Canada has taken a hit with recent announcements from the federal government reposing travel restrictions. No longer will travelers be able to take advantage of 72-hour trips to the United States that in the past did not require an arrival PCR test into Canada.

Now, all travelers returning to Canada will require a PCR test completed within 72 hours of the departure and must be completed within the country you are arriving from.

Flair Airlines CCO Garth Lund noted that “the top priority is the health and safety of our passengers, we will comply with all the regulations. This is a temporary bump in the road, but I think going into next summer demand will come back.” The hope is that this increase in restrictions will give way into 2022 and F8 can continue its new expansion into the US and beyond.

Featured image: Flair Airlines inaugural Palm Springs flight. Photo: Liam Funnell/Airways