Air Canada

Air Canada to ground most international flights

A Boeing 787 lands at Vancouver International Airport in August 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Air Canada announced Wednesday it would halt the majority of its international flights – including flights to the United States – at the end of the month.

The move comes “in response to decisions by national governments, including Canada and the United States, to close borders and restrict commercial aviation as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” the airline said in a statement.

The airline announced it would maintain a skeleton international network after April 1, and would continue to serve all 10 provinces, “albeit with a significantly reduced network.”

“The restrictions on travel imposed by governments worldwide, while understandable, are nonetheless having a cataclysmic effect upon the global airline industry,” said Air Canada President and Chief Executive Officer Calin Rovinescu in a statement.

Air Canada said it would reduce its international reach from 101 cities to just six between April 1 and 30, maintaining “air bridge” service to London-Heathrow, Paris, Frankfurt, Delhi, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.

In the United States, Air Canada will maintain service to just 13 airports: New York (LaGuardia and Newark), Boston, Washington, D.C. (Dulles and Reagan National), Chicago, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale. The airline currently serves 53 airports in the U.S.

All of the changes are subject to further reductions based on demand or government orders.

The move comes after the governments of Canada and the U.S. agreed to restrict cross-border traffic to all but the most essential services.

“We are exploring with the Government of Canada possibilities to maintain essential operations to enable as many Canadians as possible to return to Canada, and to support other vital transport needs, including the shipment of goods and cargo during the crisis as required in any state of emergency,” said Rovinescu. “We will also look at helping Canadians to return home by operating a limited number of charters from international destinations and exploring with the Government of Canada avenues in this regard.”

The airline said it has put into place temporary one-way fares to help Canadians come home.

Air Canada’s move follows an announcement by Westjet that it would suspend all international flights and operate a domestic network half what it was a year ago. It is a drastic escalation from just two days ago when Air Canada predicted it would cut 50% of its capacity world-wide, and an indication of the mounting challenges airlines face in dealing with the global pandemic.

The airline also announced it would drop 22 of 62 Canadian cities from its network, though it would maintain service to all 10 provinces. It was not immediately clear what Canadian cities would lose service. The airline referred questions to its website.

Some communities, such as Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia, have moved to bar non-residents.

Given our culture, remote geography and limited healthcare resources, we have made this critical decision to protect Island citizens, and especially our cherished Elders, language speakers and knowledge holders,” the Haida Nation said in a statement.

The Air Transport Association of Canada, which represents smaller carriers, has warned that some of its members may go out of business during the crisis, further reducing options for people who need to travel. Governments have warned Canadians to stay home.