Air Canada and Westjet plan a summer schedule well below what it was in 2019. IATA warns airlines face a tough winter ahead.
Canada’s two largest airlines – Air Canada and Westjet – have now published their summer schedules, showing that between them they plan to more than double the country’s domestic air traffic in July compared to the depths of the pandemic.
The airlines are beginning to ramp up even as the International Air Transport Association – an umbrella group representing the world’s major airlines – said carriers expect to lose $84.3 billion (U.S.) this year and face a hard winter ahead.
“People are returning to the skies but the horizon of uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is extending,” said IATA Director general Alexandre de Juniac. “Forward bookings are down, and people are hedging their travel bets by booking closer to the time of travel. Airlines in the Northern hemisphere rely on a strong summer season and a predictable booking curve to get them through the lean months. But neither of these conditions are in place and airlines will need continued help from governments to survive a hard winter.”
In Canada, the carriers will add thousands of departures each week in July, though their total flights will be less than half what was flown in 2019.
When their schedules are mapped, what emerges is a picture of airlines with overlapping destinations, but different strategies.
Air Canada has produced a generally east-west plan, concentrated on its largest hub in Toronto. All but one of the airline’s busiest routes pass through Toronto; the only exception is between Calgary and Vancouver, one of the country’s busiest corridors.
The busiest routes will be between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, plus significant traffic between Toronto and Vancouver.
Westjet’s route map, in comparison, is heavily tilted toward its Alberta base. All of the busiest routes pass through Calgary, the airline’s primary hub, which will see almost 50 domestic departures each day in July.
Westjet’s July schedule will not even rise to April’s plan, which was already affected by COVID-19. It confirms the depths of the crisis that hit Canada’s aviation industry, and saw passenger numbers plummet 97% at many airports.
Ottawa, among the nation’s first airports to publish passenger data, said only 8,921 people passed through the airport in May, compared to 440,466 in May 2019, though traffic did show a slight recovery from April.
Both Westjet and Air Canada are part of a national group calling for the easing of domestic travel restrictions this summer as well as national standards to encourage Canadians to travel domestically.