Air Canada has further reduced its planned flying for the month of April, dropping a number of routes and cutting frequencies as Canada’s largest carrier continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move comes as the federal government imposed new measures Saturday to prevent infected people from getting on a plane. Starting Monday, airlines will be required to deny boarding to anyone with a cough, fever or other symptoms of COVID-19 on domestic flights. Similar measures have been in effect for international flights for more than a week.
Air Canada’s revised domestic schedule plans 1,652 departures in April, down almost 1,000 flights from its already pared-down plan released just four days ago when the airline had hoped to fly 2,614 flights.
Even as the airline released its previous schedule, executives warned the situation was in great flux and further reductions were possible.
As part of its revised schedule, Air Canada has withdrawn service to Cranbrook, British Columbia and Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport in the heart of Canada’s largest city. The move brings the airline’s Canadian destinations to just 39, down from 62 before the pandemic.
The revised domestic schedule also offers just 130 flights more than the much smaller Westjet. Westjet, however, has abandoned all international flying, while Air Canada will maintain a handful of select “air bridge” routes keeping Canada minimally connected with the rest of the world.
The move also means Calgary will have the most domestic departures in Canada in April, more even than Toronto, Canada’s largest hub. However, Toronto will continue to be Air Canada’s hub for international and flights to the United States, meaning it will be busier overall.
Governments around the world have closed their borders and advised people to stay home as a way of maintaining physical distancing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.
In terms of destinations lost, Ottawa is the hardest hit, losing non-stop service to Calgary, Edmonton, Fredericton, London, Moncton, Saint John, and Halifax. Once the full impact of the COVID-19 cuts is felt, the nation’s capital will be left with flights to Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver on 19 daily departures.
Winnipeg will host just four daily Air Canada departures, and fewer than 100 departures each week between Canada’s major carriers.
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In addition to its domestic services, Air Canada plans a handful of overseas routes, from Montreal to London, Paris, and Frankfurt, from Toronto to London, Frankfurt, Barbados, and Mexico City, and from Vancouver to London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.
Air Canada also plans flights from its three major hubs to 13 key destinations in the United States, most of them hubs for its joint venture partner United Airlines.
Air Canada has laid off more than 5,700 workers due to the pandemic, while Westjet has parted ways with 6,900 people, almost half its staff. In all, Western Aviation News estimates more than 33,000 Canadians have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, based on available data. The actual figure is likely far greater.
Air Canada has continues to work with the federal government to repatriate Canadians stranded abroad by the pandemic. It plans new flights from Algiers, Quito, and Lima in the next few days, and said it would transport more than 22,500 people home between Friday and Sunday, including 8,500 today.
In a bid to keep supply lines moving and boost overburdened cargo shippers, Air Canada has also decided to use some of its passenger planes for cargo operations. It will be a first for the airline since the 1990s, when it sold the last of its all-cargo DC8 aircraft. Since then, the airline has carried cargo in the bellies of passenger aircraft.