Canadian carrier Air Transat feels like a new kid on the block, but this month it marked its 30th anniversary of flying to the UK. Operating out of Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin and serving 26 countries into the Americas overall, this is no heritageless start-up.
But it is fair to say that the Montreal-based airline is ramping up its focus on the UK and Ireland – as demonstrated by a new-look senior team with a brief to improve relationships with the trade, revamp economy fares and new aircraft announced in recent months.
The airline is soon to take on new Airbus A321neo aircraft, including long-range models, to replace its wide-body A330s. With the collapse of former Toronto rival Primera Air still fresh in mind, it may well be that Air Transat’s heritage will mark it out as a “safe” option for low-cost travel to Canada.
But new UK and Ireland commercial director Adrian Keating – former Malaysia Airlines regional manager for UK, Europe and North America – admits the airline has work to do to ensure the public, and indeed the trade, thinks of it for “quality, good-value” travel to major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, and on to the regions.
Speaking the day before his official start-date, Keating tells me: “I believe a lot of the trade and consumers in the UK aren’t aware of what the brand and product offers. It is key for me to ensure we elevate the brand and change that.” While this push will, of course, include raising brand awareness among consumers – hence last month’s appointment of former Tui Group head of brand activation Adam Clarke to head up UK and Ireland marketing – Keating says agents are a big area of focus for the airline too.
“The relationship with the trade is one of the most important [areas] that the team and I will work on,” Keating tells me. “We’ve already got a really good foundation, but I would like us to work more closely with a lot more agents.”
Currently Air Transat has a sales team of four in London and Glasgow – the latter predominantly looking after the Irish market. Three people in the marketing team takes the combined team, including Keating, to eight.
“There is the possibility of this growing if we open up to more of our trade partners,” Keating reveals.
“I would encourage [agents] to reach out to us and, if they want to work more closely with us, they can contact me directly. [The] team are going to work over the next couple of months on letting the trade know we’re open for business on a much wider scale than we have been already.”
He adds that both leisure and corporate agents are in the airline’s sights: “Particularly with Club Class (premium economy), I think there’s an opportunity for us to offer some sort of SME product. I’d like to open up our working relationships across leisure and potentially TMCs for smaller-medium businesses.”
Another aspect of Air Transat’s offering, which may appeal to business travellers, is its push to secure connections.
“We are looking to try and ensure that we can get some really good connections through Toronto into domestic Canada,” Keating explains.
“Depending on seasonality, we already serve over to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal direct. We’re looking at more connections to destinations such as Edmonton, which we recently announced.”
He adds that a task of the commercial team is to promote the “wealth of experiences” available across the country.
Keating does not rule out further UK departure airports either: “At the moment we’re really happy with the breadth and scope that we’ve got in the UK and Ireland. Geographically the catchment areas that we’ve got serve us pretty well, but that’s not to say we’re closed to looking at opportunities if they come our way.”
With increasing numbers of low-cost transatlantic carriers entering the market, I ask Keating what differentiates Air Transat.
“Our brand and product give great value consistently against all of the other carriers,” he enthuses. “There are options for whatever demographic of traveller you are.”
Indeed, Air Transat’s new “standardised” economy fare breakdown means passengers can opt for Eco Budget, Eco Standard, Eco Flex, or higher-fare classes.
“We have a range of products, which are well-priced and great value all of the time, and that’s backed up by the fact we’ve been voted the World’s Best Leisure Airline for 2018 [in the Skytrax World Airline Awards], ahead of some of the biggest leisure airlines in the world,” says Keating.
“I’d never flown with Air Transat before I was given this role and I was pleasantly surprised. It made me more confident that commercially we’re going to do really well because the product’s great – it’s consistent.
“I really want to elevate the brand and work with the trade to do it. If we can do that over the next 12-24 months, that will be success for us.”
AIR TRANSAT GATWICK TO TORONTO
Standard economy (flying before September’s fare restructuring)
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING: At Gatwick’s South Terminal, we breezed past the busy British Airways queues and were directed to an Air Transat-branded area just to the main check-in hall, which was calm and quiet with plenty of check-in agents. In the queue, we were asked whether we had our Canadian visas, and within about 10 minutes we were checked in and free of our baggage. Boarding was painless and we left on time.
CABIN: Air Transat’s 3-3-3 formation aircraft felt new and clean, and the blue colour scheme added to the feeling of tranquillity. We were in extra-legroom seats, but the legroom seemed generous generally too.
ENTERTAINMENT: There was a wide selection of films – both the classics and recent releases. The TV shows seemed to be most appropriate for the Canadian market overall. The headphones provided as part of Option Plus were a bit hit and miss, so advise clients to take their own.
SERVICE: All fares for Air Transat flights to or from Canada include a meal, comprising a choice of two hot dishes served with salad, a sweet treat and glass of wine or non-alcoholic drink. We had a chicken and rice dish, which was surprisingly tasty. Air Transat’s Chef’s Menu by Daniel Vezina (updated this month) is included in the Club Class service and is available to passengers in economy for £15.
VERDICT: The overall experience was better than expected and, with a return Gatwick-Toronto fare leading in at £348, it is good value. Passengers can also upgrade their economy experience with Option Plus from £54pp one way, with added extras including dedicated check-in and a comfort kit (which can be purchased by anyone), with a blanket, eye mask and neck pillow.