Concerns raised about operating licence for new discount airline

Questions of accountability are being raised ahead of the launch of NewLeaf, a discount Canadian travel service offering ultra-cheap flights for as little as $89.

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Gabor Lukacs, an airline passenger advocate in Halifax, says customers should be wary about buying a ticket on NewLeaf, because the company does not hold its own operating license. Instead, NewLeaf is piggybacking on the licence of its partner, Flair Airlines, and that could cause some trouble for passengers, Lukacs said.

"The risk here is financial, really, for passengers," Lukacs told CTV Winnipeg on Thursday, from Halifax. He suggests passengers could easily run into problems in the event baggage is lost or damaged, or a flight is cancelled or delayed.

Lukacs also points out that there are some inconsistencies in the baggage liability policies between NewLeaf and Flair. NewLeaf's website says the liability limit is $750, but the Flair policy on NewLeaf's website says $250.

"Now which of them is going to apply? Whichever is best for the airline?" Lukacs asked.

"It's a question of who has commercial control," Lukacs said. "Who sets the schedule, who decides what the terms and conditions are."

NewLeaf is set to take off Feb. 12, with flights running between Hamilton, Saskatoon, Regina, Halifax, Abbottsford, Kamloops and Winnipeg. Prices will range from $89 to $149, with additional fees for everything from carry-on baggage to printed boarding passes.

NewLeaf presents itself as a travel company, not an airline, and that distinction allows it to avoid buying an operating licence – for now. NewLeaf essentially buys all the seats on Flair Airlines jets, then re-sells them to customers through the NewLeaf service.

Jack Branswell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Transportation Agency, says NewLeaf is currently operating within the law. However, the CTA is also in the process of reviewing its approach to operating licences, and that could affect NewLeaf in the Future.

"While this review is underway, the agency will not require companies such as NewLeaf… to apply for a licence," Branswell said in an email statement.

Jim Young, the president and CEO of NewLeaf, says passengers will be protected when issues arise. "All the same terms and conditions and contracts of carriage exist with Flair as they would exist with NewLeaf," he told CTV Winnipeg. "We're selling seats on Flair Airlines as a result of the NewLeaf brand, and so customers should have no concerns at all."

Young says NewLeaf is participating in the CTA review of its licensing policy.

With files from CTV Winnipeg


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