Airlines set to pounce on border opening

Canada to begin opening its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. residents starting August 9, with a planned global reopening in September

border reopen
An Air Canada Airbus A220 departs Vancouver International Airport January 14, 2021. Air Canada announced plans to restart numerous routes to the United States (Brett Ballah).

Airlines were quick to pounce on news Monday the federal government plans on opening the border to foreigners starting next month. On the news, Air Canada alone announced it will add 220 daily flights between Canada and the U.S. starting next month.

The easing of travel restrictions announced today by the federal government is an important step based on science,” said Mark Galardo, Senior Vice President, Network Planning and Revenue Management at Air Canada. “We are very pleased to rebuild our Canada-U.S. network.”

After more than 18 months of isolation, Canada announced the border will reopen to fully vaccinated visitors. It will also remove quarantine restrictions and blanket testing requirements. The first non-essential travellers to be allowed into the country will be U.S. citizens and permanent residents. People wanting to visit will have to have a Canadian-approved vaccine at least two weeks before their flight. Travellers will also have to fill out required forms on the ArriveCAN app and carry proof of vaccination.

Anyone caught cheating is subject to a fine or imprisonment.

Canada closed its border in March 2020 to all but essential travellers. The move had a devastating effect on airlines and businesses that rely on tourists. Statistics Canada reported last week that only 23,200 non-residents arrived in Canada by air in June. That was down 97.6% from June 2019.

Banking on pent-up demand

Air Canada built a lucrative business between Canada and the U.S.. In time, the airline plans to rebuild its market connecting passengers between America and Europe through its Canadian hubs. The airline will concentrate most of its restarted services from its Toronto and Montreal hubs. Vancouver will also see seven new destinations in the U.S., while Calgary will see resumed Air Canada service to Phoenix.

“Air Canada’s proud tradition of being the largest foreign carrier in the U.S. is reflected in our schedule,” said Galardo. “We are planning to restore services to all 57 U.S. destinations previously served as conditions allow.”

Rival Westjet also plans a number of new U.S. routes in August, concentrated on its Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto hubs. If all goes well, Canada plans to open its borders to fully vaccinated global travellers September 7.

The association that represents Canada’s largest carriers welcomed the move “Though we have almost lost the summer travel season,” aid Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada. “Today’s announcement provides clarity and timeframes that will allow consumers to plan.”

Not to be outdone, ultra low-cost carriers Flair and Swoop also plan U.S. flights this winter. Their routes focus on popular sun destinations for Canadians escaping the cold winter.

The International Air Transport Association welcomed the news. “First and foremost, it restores the freedom of travel, which will be especially welcomed by those who were barred from seeing friends and family,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh. “Moreover, airlines can now start reinstating international connectivity.”

“The easing of Canada’s border measures is welcome news for tourism businesses across the country,” said Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly.

More airports can accept international travellers

The federal government also expanded the number of Canadian airports that can accept international arrivals. For most of the pandemic, all international flights had to land in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal.

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Edmonton is one of five airports that will be allowed to accept international travellers starting August 9, 2021 (Brett Ballah)

Starting August 9, five more airports — Halifax, Quebec, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Edmonton — will open to international arrivals.

“The measures announced today will greatly facilitate recovery in air travel to Canada,” said Daniel-Robert Gooch, the President of the Canadian Airports Council. “It is a testament to the hard work of Canadians to get vaccinated.”

The CAC also took the opportunity to further expand international arrivals capabilities.

“Airports are pleased to see five additional communities gain access to international flights,” said Gooch. “However, prior to the pandemic, more than 20 more Canadian communities had regular flights to the U.S., Caribbean, and Mexico, and are anxious to confirm when international air access will return. Timing is important, as seasonal service to sun destinations typically begins in the fall and Canadians are already planning their winter vacations.” 

It will take time for airlines to rebuild their networks. Even airports that will reopen to international flights signalled people shouldn’t expect immediate results.

“We have been working closely with Transport Canada to ensure travel returns with all safety protocols in place to protect Canadians and all travellers,” said Tom Ruth, Edmonton’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Edmonton is ready – we have the testing and safety protocols in place at the airport to safely support arriving and departing travellers.”

IATA estimates opening the border will contribute $14 billion to Canada’s economy.

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