You’ve probably heard the radio ads: Sunwing Airlines, traditionally a sunspot charter airline, will begin operating trans-atlantic flights from Canada to various locations in Europe this summer.
Sound familiar? Well.. there was Zoom Airlines, which went bust in August 2008, stranding thousands of passengers, and there was also Globepsan Airlines, which operated cheap flights from Hamilton to the UK, which was notorious for equipment-related delays and also went bust in December 2009 after acquiring Zoom.
Montreal-based Air Transat and UK-based Thomas Cook (which code-shares with Air Transat) are the only discount transatlantic airlines to have survived the test of time and continue to offer scheduled flights to Europe.
This year, a new player has entered the market: Sunwing Airlines. Do you have reason to hesitate when booking Sunwing?
Sunwing’s main selling point is their service. Whereas Air Transat is a no-frills airline, Sunwing boasts comfortable leather seats and a glass of champagne upon boarding the aircraft to start off your vacation. In terms of pricing, Air Transat appears to be matching all fares from Sunwing for their popular YYZ-LGW route. So, given that Air Transat and Sunwing offer the same price (and will likely continue to match each other when battling for ticket sales this summer), which should you book?
First off, Air Transat has a stable track record. It has been operating flights since 1987 and is Canada’s third-largest airline (after Air Canada and WestJet). Sunwing has been operating charter flights since 2005, and this is the first year they are operating transatlantic flights. It goes without saying that Air Transat services many more European destinations than Sunwing, which provides you with greater flexibility in booking your eurotrip.
In terms of equipment, Air Transat owns all of its 21 planes. It typically operates its Airbus A330-200 series aircraft to Europe, with an average equipment age of 8 years.
Sunwing will be contracting Portugal-based EuroAtlantic to offer its flights, and will be making use of 2 of their Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, with an average equipment age of 18.6 years.
In terms of cabin layout, Air Transat features a seat pitch of 31 inches for economy seating (Thomas Cook offers slightly more) with seating arranged 3/3/3 (and 2/3/2 near the rear of the aircraft). Sunwing’s aircraft features a seat pitch of 30 inches for general seating with seats arranged 2/3/2.
In terms of baggage, Air Transat permits ONE checked luggage weighing 20kg max, and ONE carry-on luggage weighing 5kg max. Air Transat is generally quite strict about this policy and will ask you to weigh all your items upon check-in. Sunwing offers a total combined allowance of 25kg (30kg for flights to Rome), including both checked and carry-on luggage.
In terms of service, Air Transat offers complimentary snacks, meals, wine (served with the meal), water, soft drinks, tea, coffee and juice. Sunwing offers the same as Air Transat, plus a glass of bubbly and a comfort kit.
So, what’s the verdict?
Well, if you want to fly on newer, more spacious aircraft, with a well-established airline that services all major European destinations, then you should stick with good ole’ Air Transat. Let Sunwing establish itself a little more, and perhaps purchase some newer aircraft before choosing to fly with them. If the Champagne is still enticing, remember that 8 hours after leaving Toronto, you can enjoy real French Champagne in France (or Cava in Spain) served to you in a quaint, outdoor terrace, rather than cheap champagne served to you in plastic cups on a crowded aircraft.