Air Canada

Air Canada suspends airline’s first-ever passenger route


900 more flight attendants will be furloughed in move announced Tuesday

17 routes suspended, including Canada’s first-ever passenger air route to the United States

An Air Canada de Havilland Dash 8-400 departs Vancouver International Airport December 24, 2020 (Brett Ballah).

Air Canada will suspend 17 routes due to COVID-19 and cut 1,500 more jobs. Among the cuts are the country’s first-ever passenger route to the United States, a service the airline has operated for more than 83 years.

“It is with heavy hearts that we must advise you that the Company let us know earlier this morning of a further staffing surplus,” CUPE, the union representing flight attendants, wrote this morning. Some 900 flight attendants will be out of work in just a few weeks. “This is a due to the federal government’s introduction of a mandatory quarantine on arrival as well at the continued suspension of flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.”

The carrier suspended service to sun destinations until the end of April at the request of the federal government.

Air Canada told the CBC it will cut 17 international routes. Among them are eight services to the United States, including all service to Boston and La Guardia, Toronto-Denver, and Toronto-Reagan.

Air Canada is also suspending service to Bogota, Sao Paolo, and Tokyo and continuing the suspension of service to Tel Aviv.

Air Canada did not respond to a request for comment.

Canada’s first international route

Perhaps most telling of all is Air Canada’s decision to suspend service between Vancouver and Seattle.

The inaugural Trans-Canada Airlines flight between Vancouver and Seattle Sept. 1, 1937 (Vancouver Archives).

The route was Trans-Canada Airlines’ – the forerunner to Air Canada – first passenger route. On a sunny day in September 1937, a 10-seat Trans-Canada Airlines Lockheed L10-A Electra departed Vancouver for the 50-minute flight to Seattle. This was not only the carrier’s inaugural flight, but also Canada’s first transborder commercial service.

Air Canada would go on to build a vast global network of 180 destinations, including a lucrative market connecting passengers between the United States and Europe.

“Since this inaugural commercial flight, traffic across the Canada-United States border has seen steady growth,” Statistics Canada reported in 2017. “In 1970, four million air passengers travelled across the Canada-US border, with the most popular US destinations including New York, Boston and Chicago. In 2016, there were over 22.2 million passengers who made the cross-border air journey, with popular US destinations still including New York and now Los Angeles and Las Vegas.”

Thanks to the pandemic and ongoing border closures and restrictions, there are now only a handful of flights operating on those once-popular routes.

It’s a further scaling back of Canada’s airlines’ international presence, in the name of stopping the spread of COVID. Canada’s airlines say they are losing what little market share there is to foreign carriers. Those carriers have, for the most part, been propped up by their governments. That has not been the case in Canada, though the government says discussions are ongoing.

Canada closed its borders to most non-citizens almost a year ago and requires most people arriving in the country to quarantine for two weeks. It also requires air passengers to get a negative COVID test within 72 hours of departure and now requires a second test on arrival. Passengers have to quarantine in a hotel at their cost while they wait for the results.

Difficult to bear

“We understand this news is disheartening and incredibly difficult to bear as we watch our industry crumble around us,” executives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees said in a post. “These further layoffs could result in a staggering 7,800 of our members being on layoff status.”

The move comes even as smaller carriers are spotting opportunity, however limited. On Tuesday, British Columbia regional carrier Pacific Coastal launched a new service linking Vancouver and Kamloops. The airline moved into a route vacated by Air Canada.

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