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WestJet planning new fare category for travellers willing to forgo carry-on bag

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WestJet Airlines plans to launch a new cheaper fare category that would be available to travellers willing to fly without a carry-on bag.

CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech told a Calgary business audience Wednesday that the new "ultra-low" fare category will be introduced within "a couple of weeks" and will appeal to the most budget-conscious travellers.

He said the move will also free up overhead bin space for other passengers. Travellers who purchase the cheapest fare will not have the option to put a bag in the overhead bins, though they will still be permitted to store a knapsack, purse or small personal item underneath the seat in front of them.

"Those guests will not be allowed to bring a carry-on bag. We expect this will significantly reduce the amount of carry-on bags," von Hoensbroech said.

He acknowledged that having large numbers of passengers jockeying for limited overhead bin space has become a problem on full flights — particularly when the plane is an older model of aircraft.

"On the older airplanes that we have, they are smaller, you actually get less bags in them," he said.

WestJet is not the first airline in Canada to offer a "no carry-on" discounted fare. Edmonton-based Flair Airlines lets passengers fly with one free small bag or personal item that can be stored beneath the seat, but any bag destined for the overhead bin space costs extra.

The idea of "unbundling" airline fares so that passengers pay only for the specific services they need has become more common in recent years due to the rise of the ultra-low-cost carrier model.

The thinking behind the model is that budget-conscious travellers can choose to pay a stripped-down, basic fare while more comfort-minded passengers can purchase extras like the ability to select a seat, check a bag or access in-flight entertainment.

WestJet itself is not considered an ultra-low-cost carrier along the lines of Flair or Europe's Ryanair. The airline — which aims to attract all manner of passengers, from business travellers to sun-seekers — still includes certain perks like in-flight snacks and non-alcoholic beverages within its basic service.

But WestJet is exploring ways to grow its pay-for-service offerings. Last month, the airline launched what it calls its "extended comfort" fare category, which for an extra fee offers passengers access to a number of perks — including preferential access to overhead bins.

"Some (passengers) want premium and are willing to pay a higher price. Some want just a rock-bottom price," von Hoensbroech said.

"It's part of our philosophy that we want to offer choice ... and I think we can do more than we have been doing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024.

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