Air Canada drops 8 cities from route map amid coronavirus adjustments

Jun 30, 2020

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Air Canada will end service to eight cities in Canada and make other adjustments to its map as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in what some see as a play for government aid.

The Montreal-based carrier will end service to eight regional destinations across eastern Canada, plus drop 30 routes, as it adjusts to lower demand due to COVID-19, Air Canada said on Tuesday. It also cited the Canadian government’s restrictions on international arrivals into the country for the cuts.

“I am saddened by the impact today’s announcement… but respect and understand the difficult choice our partner, Air Canada, has had to make,” Joe Randell, president and CEO of the Chorus Aviation that operates many of the discontinued flights, said in a statement.

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Air travel has been decimated by the pandemic. Statistics Canada’s latest data shows passenger numbers fell 97% year-over-year to just 213,000 people in April. While the number of flyers has recovered some since then, numerous reports indicate that it is far below 2019 levels.

In July, Air Canada plans to fly about 37% of what it flew in Canada a year ago, according to Cirium schedules. WestJet plans to fly about 30% of what it flew in 2019.

Porter Airlines, which suspended flights in the early days of the pandemic on March 20, has postponed plans to resume flights until Aug. 31.

The recovery in air travel is widely expected to take at least two to three years. However, at least one recent update has forecasted a slower than initially expected return of flyers to at least 2023.

Related: Air travel recovery may come slower than expected

Some are suggesting that Air Canada’s announcement may be the latest move in its push to get the Canadian government to relax travel restrictions or provide airlines with financial aid. To date, the country has only provided its carriers with access to a wage subsidy program.

In an interview with the Financial Post on Tuesday, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said the government needed to either ease travel restrictions or provide aid to Canadian carriers.

“Either one or the other or both. But it can’t be neither,” he said.

Related: Air Canada resumes US flights, will serve fewer than half its destinations this summer

Air Canada’s service reductions could be a harbinger of what is to come in the U.S. While American carriers have maintained most of their maps under conditions of the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, those rules are set to lift on Sept. 30. At that time, airlines could pull destinations as needed to fit their expectations that they will emerge smaller from the crisis.

“Starting Oct. 1, every airport on an airline network is fair game for being cut,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, told TPG. “Stations that are not profitable, and do not have the prospect to quickly become profitable, will be dropped like an ex-spouse in a bitter divorce.”

Only American Airlines has permanently exited a domestic city due to the crisis to date. The carrier ended flights to Oakland (OAK) on June 3, consolidating its service in California’s Bay Area to just San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose (SJC) airports.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Below is a list of the destinations where Air Canada will end service.

  • Bathurst, New Brunswick (ZBF)
  • Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador (YWK)
  • Gaspé, Quebec (YGP)
  • Baie Comeau, Quebec (YBC)
  • Mont Joli, Quebec (YYY)
  • Val d’Or, Quebec (YVO)
  • Kingston, Ontario (YGP)
  • North Bay, Ontario (YYB)

Featured image courtesy of Air Canada.

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