Air Canada has decided to suspend all flights to the United States, after the two countries extended their border closure for another 30 days as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suspension takes effect Sunday and will last at least until May 22.
Air Canada will continue its controversial policy of allowing passengers to rebook travel as opposed to offering automatic refunds for cancelled flights.
“The airline is waiving change fees for affected customers with bookings during this period to enable them to reschedule their travel with no additional fee,” the airline said in releasing its decision.
Air Canada had maintained flights to 13 cities in the United States, despite the border being closed to all but essential traffic. Tuesday’s decision is a sign of how few people are travelling between the two countries.
It’s a particular blow for Air Canada, which, before the pandemic, built its growth strategy around transferring people between the United States, Asia, and Europe through its Canadian hubs.
It was by far the largest airline operating transborder flights into the U.S., thanks to an open skies agreement between the two countries that allowed the market to dictate where and when planes should fly.
In 2018, 26.4 million people flew between the two countries. Air Canada dominated that traffic, offering 105 routes to 56 destinations in the U.S., including 46 non-stop routes from its Toronto hub.
Air Canada now joins Westjet and Swoop cancelling scheduled service to the United States, along with charter airlines Air Transat and Sunwing.
In May, Air Canada plans 880 weekly domestic departures, a slight increase over April. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has cut roughly 90% of its capacity as passengers follow government advice and stay home.
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The airline announced last week it would use government subsidies to help pay its staff through early June.
The International Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines around the world including Air Canada, predicted it would be a long slow recovery for airlines.
“Passenger confidence will suffer a double whammy even after the pandemic is contained—hit by personal economic concerns in the face of a looming recession on top of lingering concerns about the safety of travel. Governments and industry must be quick and coordinated with confidence-boosting measures,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer.
The association commissioned a survey of travellers in 11 countries including Canada. It found 40% of travellers would wait six months or more after the pandemic is contained before they travel again, and more than two-thirds would put off traven until their personal financial situation stabilizes.
The result is that even when governments loosen their pandemic travel restrictions, travel levels remain low. In China, domestic loads recovered to 40% of what they were pre-pandemic, and in Australia just 10%.
“People still want to travel,” said de Juniac. “But they are telling us that they want clarity on the economic situation and will likely wait for at least a few months after any ‘all clear’ before returning to the skies. As countries lift restrictions, confidence boosting measures will be critical to re-start travel and stimulate economies.”