Three sites that could make your summertime air travel less of a pain

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It was all smiles at Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport as Iceland Express’s first flight to Winnipeg landed in early June. For a non-North American carrier to start scheduled service to a medium-sized midwestern market like Winnipeg is almost unheard of, and many Winnipeggers were captivated by promotional fares offering the promise of a trip to Europe for less than $1,000 round-trip.

In less than a month, however, the “old-fashioned” way of getting from Winnipeg to Europe — paying a network carrier $1,000 and up and making connections in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago or the Twin Cities — would start to look good again.

This change came as passengers learned the hard way that the cheapest flight is sometimes the worst bargain of all.

On June 25, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Iceland Express’s twice-weekly Winnipeg flights had been plagued by cancellations due to “weak ticket sales”. Five days later, CBC Manitoba reported that passengers’ holiday plans were being reorganized as Iceland Express reduced Winnipeg service to just one flight per week with plans to suspend service entirely in September before re-launching the Winnipeg-Iceland link again next year.

Could passengers have avoided the headaches? The answer is yes.

Even before Iceland Express’s arrival in Winnipeg last month — even before the Iceland volcano caused travel havoc in Europe — there were warning signs that Iceland Express was an airline with severe reliability problems, flying as it were on a wing and a prayer.

Skytrax, a popular beefs-and-bouquets site for air travelers, has documented a series of trip reports that show that the problems experienced by Winnipeg travelers — canceled flights and no one being available to help make alternate arrangements — are nothing new.

Skytrax is the first site that could help passengers avoid air travel headaches. Along with raves about in-flight entertainment systems and rants about delays, the site is also filled with anecdotal information about airline reliability, baggage charges, whether or not you’ll get a large enough meal to keep hunger at bay on an overseas flight, and even on which airports you should aim for and which ones you should avoid when making a connection.

In addition to Iceland Express, Skytrax also has reviews on Air Canada, CanJet, Delta, Sunwing, United and WestJet as well as their codeshare partners.

The second site worth checking out is a unique search engine called Inside Trip. While most search engines focus on price, departure time and trip duration — the three things people tend to look at first when making a reservation — Inside Trip adds what it calls “flight quality” to the mix. Thus, a flight with roomier seats and a good on-time departure record will be ranked higher than a flight with more cramped seating and a spotty on-time record.  You can customize this search engine to include those amenities that mean a lot to you and exclude those that count for nothing.

The third useful site is Flight Stats. If it’s vital that you arrive at your destination on time or make a connection, Flight Stats allows you to compare the on-time record of multiple flights on a given route, as this examination of the Winnipeg-Toronto route shows. This site could also have tipped off travelers to Iceland Express’s reliability problems, as shown in this overview of the airline’s historical operating statistics. (Even if you make allowances for the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, it still suggests that passengers should leave time in their schedules for long delays.)

Now that you have these three tools at your disposal, your outlook for a (relatively) problem-free flight this summer has just improved considerably. Happy traveling!

Northwest soon to become yet another YWG ghost

What are your memories as a former passenger or employee of Northwest, Jetsgo, Canada 3000, Royal Airlines, Pacific Western, Transair or any of the other airlines that came and went through Winnipeg over the years? Share them in the comments section below, or by e-mailing

On Feb. 1, 1928, a Northwest Airlines flight departed Minneapolis/St. Paul en route to Fargo and Winnipeg. It was the first international flight for Northwest, which would go on to become one of the USA’s largest international carriers. It was also the start of an 81-year relationship between Northwest and Winnipeggers.

In the not so distant future, Northwest’s name and red-tailed aircraft will disappear forever from Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport as the Minnesota-based airlines is absorbed into Atlanta-based Delta Airlines.

Northwests Boeing 727s were a familiar sight in Winnipeg from the late 60s until well into the 90s. (© Richard Vandervord)

Northwest's Boeing 727s were a familiar sight in Winnipeg from the late '60s until well into the '90s. (© Richard Vandervord)

Northwest DC-9 in final colour scheme prior to Delta acquisition. (© Carlos Vaz)

Northwest DC-9 in final colour scheme prior to Delta acquisition. (© Carlos Vaz)

There have been many carriers that have passed through Winnipeg over the years. Some served the city for years, others for just a few months. Let’s take a look back at some of the other airlines that have connected Winnipeggers to the world over the years. If you’ve flown any of these airlines, please share your memories of them — good or bad — in the comments section. I’d love to hear them.

Jetsgo (© Richard Austen)

Jetsgo (© Richard Austen)


Years at YWG: 2002-2005

Destinations: Other major cities in Canada

Remembered for: Extremely low promotion fares (e.g., $10), long delays, increasingly chaotic operation during its final weeks in the air.

Ultimate Fate: Shut down and declared bankruptcy in March 2005. Transport Canada was reportedly close to grounding the airline for safety reasons at the time.

Analysis: Given the alarming details that we’ve learned about this airline from Transport Canada and former Jetsgo employees since the 2005 shutdown, the best thing that could be said about Jetsgo is that no one got killed.

Canada 3000 (© Alain Durand)

Canada 3000 (© Alain Durand)

Canada 3000

Years at YWG: c. 1988-2001

Destinations: Initially Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and a few routes in Canada. Later began to offer more domestic flights in competition with Air Canada.

Remembered for: Low fares to Europe and tight seating. One joke suggested that the “3000” stood for the number of passengers it tried to squeeze into each aircraft. Blunt-talking CEO whom the newspapers knew was always good for a quote.

Ultimate Fate: Declared bankruptcy and shut down in November 2001.

Analysis: Was a well-run and usually profitable business when it was still a niche carrier. Putting itself into debt by buying its competitors in 2000-01 and going head-to-head with Air Canada was its big mistake. Was already in trouble by the summer of 2001, and doomed after 9-11.

Royal Airlines (© Javier Rodriguez)

Royal Airlines (© Javier Rodriguez)

Royal Airlines

Years at YWG: Early ’90s to 2000-01

Destinations: Initially flew a lot of European and Sun charters out of Winnipeg. Briefly ran domestic flights toward the end.

Remembered for: Didn’t make a big impression.

Ultimate Fate: Taken over by Canada 3000.

Analysis: Came and went without much fanfare. Neither loved nor loathed by the public.

CanJet (© Andrew Colvin)

CanJet (© Andrew Colvin)


Years at YWG: Late ’90s to about 2000 or 2001

Destinations: Toronto and points east

Remembered for: Halifax-based discount carrier modeled after WestJet. Had a flight that departed Winnipeg for Toronto at 3 a.m.

Ultimate Fate: Taken over by Canada 3000. Later resurrected under the same ownership as before the sale. Now only operating charter flights.

Analysis: Might have made it if it had been launched prior to WestJet.

Canadian Airlines (© Howard Chaloner)

Canadian Airlines (© Howard Chaloner)

Canadian Airlines

Years at YWG: 1987 to 2000-01

Destinations: Most major cities between Toronto and Vancouver. Connections to other destinations through Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.

Remembered for: Famous “Wingwalkers” ad, showing Air Canada passengers walking across the wings of two airplanes flying side-by-side to get on a more welcoming Canadian Airlines jet. Narrowly avoiding bankruptcy twice, in 1991-92 and 1995-96.

Ultimate Fate: Purchased by Air Canada in 1999, reportedly just days away from bankruptcy.

Analysis: Made a good effort, but was trying to make money with a full-service, all-things-to-all-people business model that had no hope of profitability in the deregulation era. Barely made it to the end of the ’90s as it was, and even a little more cash in the bank would not have allowed Canadian to survive 9-11 or the SARS outbreak.

VistaJet (© John Kelley)

VistaJet (© John Kelley)


Years at YWG: A few short months in mid-1997

Destinations: Toronto and a few other cities in the region

Remembered for: Barely remembered at all, except by the few passengers it carried and some employees who had a summer job in the airline industry.

Ultimate Fate: Bankruptcy after 3-4 months in operation

Analysis: A small, underfunded company that entered a crowded marketplace without anything to make it stand out from the crowd.

Greyhound Air (© Andy Vanderheyden)

Greyhound Air (© Andy Vanderheyden)

Greyhound Air

Years at YWG: 1996-97

Destinations: Most major cities in Canada

Remembered for: Cheeky TV ad showing a greyhound relieving itself on a competitor’s landing gear.

Ultimate Fate: Parent company purchased by another corporation that wasn’t interested in running a money-losing airline.

Analysis: One of the better attempts at launching a discount airline, by capitalizing on Greyhound Bus Lines’ brand name and good advertising. With a more fuel-efficient fleet (its Boeing 727s were gas guzzlers) and point-to-point flights instead of a hub-and-spoke model, it might have done better.

Wardair (© Bob Logan)

Wardair (© Bob Logan)


Years at YWG: ’60s, ’70s and ’80s

Destinations: Charters to Hawaii and Europe for many years; a few domestic scheduled flights in the late ’80s

Remembered for: Good service — the details of which founder and CEO Max Ward took an intensive interest . Meals served on fine china and with silverware.

Ultimate Fate: Got itself into financial trouble when it tried to get into scheduled domestic service in the late ’80s. Later taken over by Canadian Airlines (largely for its valuable slots at European airports) for what was considered an inflated price.

Analysis: A company with a fine reputation that should have stuck to its niche as a classy charter airline.

CP Air (© Bob Garrard)

CP Air (© Bob Garrard)

CP Air (Canadian Pacific Airlines)

Years at YWG: c. 1942 to 1987

Destinations: Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, with onward connections to California, Hawaii, Ottawa, Montreal and Europe.

Remembered for: Eye-catching orange/silver livery. Boasting that it served its meals using real dishes and utensils, “never plastic”.

Ultimate Fate: Taken over by Calgary-based Pacific Western Airlines in 1986-87 as the nucleus of Canadian Airlines.

Analysis: Was of more value to Canadian Pacific for its good reputation than for the money it made, which was reportedly never much.

Pacific Western Airlines (© Alain Rioux)

Pacific Western Airlines (© Alain Rioux)

Pacific Western Airlines (PWA)

Years at YWG: 1979-87

Destinations: Cities in northern Manitoba, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Remembered for: Buying out Winnipeg-based Transair in the late ’70s. Billing itself as “The Competition” to Air Canada on routes to the other three western provinces. Briefly offering Boeing 767 widebody service to… Regina!

Ultimate Fate: Took over CP Air in 1986-87 with the goal of turning itself into a global airline.

Analysis: PWA was Canada’s most successful airline in the ’70s and ’80s, making a profit every year from 1970 to 1986. Had it continued its conservative approach, and modeled itself after consistently profitable Southwest Airlines in the U.S., it would still be in the skies today. Instead, it threw out a successful business model that had made it money for 16 consecutive years, and replaced it with another business model that no one was having much success with. Too bad.

Frontier (© Richard Vandervord)

Frontier (© Richard Vandervord)


Years at YWG: 1974-86

Destinations: Denver (via Bismarck and/or Minot), with onward connections to the western and southwestern U.S.

Remembered for: Serving steak and wine in Economy Class in the ’70s. Friendly, informal flight attendants and all-economy seating that made it kind of like “WestJet with meal service”.

Ultimate Fate: Bankruptcy in 1986. A new Frontier Airlines was launched out of Denver in 1994 by former managers and employees of the original Frontier, but is otherwise unrelated.

Analysis: A unique airline that was caught up in insane competition in the mid-’80s at its Denver hub (which was also a hub city for both United and Continental at the time). Came under the ownership of dysfunctional People Express, a.k.a. People Distress

Nordair (© Howard Chaloner)

Nordair (© Howard Chaloner)


Years at YWG: 1979-86

Destinations: Dryden, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto and points east

Remembered for: Regional service connecting Winnipeg to northern Ontario. If you stayed on the plane long enough, eventually you’d reach Toronto.

Ultimate Fate: Taken over by CP Air in 1985-86, which was itself taken over by PWA soon afterwards.

Analysis: A benign regional carrier that knew its niche and never reached beyond its grasp.

Republic Airlines (© Frank C. Duarte, Jr.)

Republic Airlines (© Frank C. Duarte, Jr.)

Republic Airlines

Years at YWG: 1979 to c. 1981 (give or take a year)

Destinations: Duluth and Milwaukee, possibly Minneapolis as well, with onward connections.

Remembered for: Not much. Never established a strong brand presence in Winnipeg. (Though I once heard that one of its airplanes had so much litter strewn around that it reminded one passenger of the Winnipeg Stadium after a football game.)

Ultimate Fate: Canceled service to Winnipeg during the recession of the early ’80s. Later taken over by Northwest Airlines in 1986. Brand name now used by a U.S. feeder airline unrelated to the original Republic Airlines.

Analysis: Was a logical choice if you wanted to go to Minnesota or Wisconsin, perhaps even to Chicago. But if you were going anywhere else, there were more attractive options available.

Transair (© Bob Garrard)

Transair (© Bob Garrard)


Years at YWG: 1947-1979 (Known as Central Northern Airways until 1956)

Destinations: Northern Manitoba, the N.W.T. and Yukon, northern Ontario, Toronto, plus charters to Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii and other popular destinations. Briefly served Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton in the run-up to its merger with PWA in 1979.

Remembered for: Winnipeg’s hometown airline. Boldly coloured yellow-and-brown airplanes.

Ultimate Fate: Ran into financial trouble in the mid-’70s and began looking for a buyer. Was rebuffed by Air Canada and CP Air before being purchased by Pacific Western in 1977. Merger completed in 1979.

Analysis: Operated too many different types of aircraft: Boeing 707s and 737s, Fokker F-28s, YS-11 turboprops, helicopters and freighters. Even if it had been able to continue on as an independent airline into the ’80s, it probably would have been bought out during the 1985-87 wave of mergers.

North Central Airlines (© Aris Pappas)

North Central Airlines (© Aris Pappas)

North Central Airlines

Years at YWG: 1974-79

Destinations: Duluth and Milwaukee, with onward connections to Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and other cities in the Upper Midwest. Acted as a feeder for larger airlines like American and United.

Remembered for: Casual regional airline run by friendly Midwesterners.

Ultimate Fate: Merged with Southern Airways in 1979 to form Republic Airlines, which was itself taken over by Northwest Airlines in 1986. Some of North Central’s former DC-9s still call in at YWG today. Watch for Northwest aircraft carrying the registration N***NC (the “NC” standing for North Central).

Analysis: A small airline from a different era that was sure to end up merging with or being taken over by someone else.