Charlottetown

Westjet to restore its pre-COVID domestic destinations

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The announcement means the airline will restore domestic service to Atlantic Canada by summer, but it comes with conditions

Passengers deplane from a Westjet Boeing 737-800NG at Charlottetown International Airport (Twitter/@flyYYG).

Westjet said Wednesday it is planning to restore service to its pre-COVID domestic destinations by Canada Day.

“As we look ahead to the recovery, we do have more optimism now than we did back in November,” said John Weatherill, Westjet’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “Thanks to an accelerated vaccine rollout, we see a path to the safe restart of travel in this country. Ultimately, we need to make these decisions now for network to ensure that we will be ready and able to support these communities, over the coming months.”

The airline said it will restore service to St. John’s, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Sydney, Moncton, and Quebec City. The airline pulled service to those cities in November, citing travel restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. Seasonal services to Deer Lake and Gander, Newfoundland will also be restored by the end of June, the airline said.

The announcement is welcome news, particularly in Gander, Frederciton and Sydney, Nova Scotia. They were left without any commercial passenger services as a result of the pandemic.

Ultra low-cost carrier Flair has announced similar plans to expand east, as of early May.

“We are doing this on our own volition,” said Weatherill. “Today’s announcement is an important milestone for WestJet as it confirms our intention to restore service to each of the 42 Canadian cities that we serve.”

Westjet is operating at about 10% of its pre-pandemic capacity, he said.

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A conditional restart

Westjet executives stressed that the decision to restore these domestic destinations is not conditional on government aid. However, it is conditional on government actions.

“Yes there is a condition,” said Westjet Director of Government Relations Andrew Gibbons. “The condition is that we continue the positive work that’s underway, so that we can bring these investments to life.”

The Atlantic provinces are planning to restart a regional bubble on April 19. That will allow residents to fly freely within the region. But people coming from elsewhere in Canada are either banned except for essential travel, or must quarantine on arrival.

Easing those restrictions will be essential for Westjet to restart these domestic services.

“We are seeking a domestic travel plan for Canada,” said Gibbons. “This could be a metric chosen by Atlantic premiers in the federal government to declare Canada open, and open safely. So we continue to work with the Atlantic premiers and the federal government on the need for a safe restart plan. And I think everyone is on the same page and has the same goal; we want to see Canada open safely the summer, and bring these investments to life for everyone who depends on them.”

“Fundamentally for these services that we’ve announced today to be successful, there has to be demand for the services,” said Weatherill. “The demand for services will occur once the travel restrictions are reduced or removed.”

Route Frequency Planned restart date 
St. John’s-Halifax 6x weekly May 6, 2021 
Charlottetown-Toronto 11x weekly June 24, 2021 
St. John’s-Toronto 1x daily June 24, 2021 
Fredericton-Toronto 1x daily June 26, 2021 
Quebec City-Toronto 1x dailyJune 28, 2021 
Sydney-Halifax 1x daily June 28, 2021 
Moncton-Toronto 1x daily June 30, 2021 
Westjet’s planned restart dates on services to Eastern Canada (source: Westjet)

International restart

Westjet also said it is working on restoring international services. Before the pandemic, the airline flew to dozens of sun destinations in the United States and Latin America. It also operated a smaller, but growing, network to points in Europe, particularly with a growing fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

The airline plans to return to Europe this summer, Westjet said.

“We remain very hopeful as he says we will remain very hopeful that some of the international travel restrictions will be reduced and removed in due course,” said Weatherill. “We’re planning for that eventuality, we do have international flying in our schedule in the summertime. We’re going to continue to monitor the situation of course and see what develops. We’ll adjust as we need to but at this point, it is our intention to fly internationally this summer.”

But there again, there’s a condition.

“One of the important considerations there is the removal of the current hotel policy,” said Gibbons. That policy requires people arriving on international flights to pay for a hotel stay while they wait for COVID test results. “It’s deliberately designed to dampen demand. So we have requested that that policy transition as of May 1 to a more traditional regime around testing and reduce quarantine. That is our request and expectation, quite frankly, of the government that that we successfully transition from that hotel policy on May 1 to allow greater international connectivity.”

It all adds up for a lot of uncertainty in an industry that, pre-COVID, liked to plan months and years in advance.

“Obviously, the situation remains fluid,” said Gibbons. “And we also we also have been hearing from our travel and tourism partners, where if Canadians shifted their spend from international to domestic, the recovery will go faster. And we can shave a year, according Destination Canada, off the recovery.”

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