WestJet cuts 5 cities in eastern Canada, blames coronavirus and fee increases

Oct 14, 2020

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Canadian airlines have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. With minimal government aid, leaders at Air Canada and WestJet have cut flights for longer and deeper than their U.S. counterparts as they wait for flyers to return.

WestJet, for one, cannot wait any longer. The Calgary-based carrier is indefinitely curtailing service to five airports in eastern Canada airports, it said Wednesday. CEO Ed Sims said the move, which will take place in November, will reverse “decades” of growth by the carrier that increased travel options for Canadians and lowered fares.

“It has taken decades to build this highly competitive position, and over the last eight months we are beginning to see these efforts unravel,” Sims said in a video message shared Tuesday. He cited COVID-19, travel restrictions and recent fee increases by airport operators and the country’s air traffic control organization Nav Canada for the cuts.

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WestJet will remove Charlottetown (YYG), Fredericton (YFC), Moncton (YQM), Quebec City (YQB) and Sydney (YQY) from its map on Nov. 2. In addition, the airline will also cut service to its two remaining destinations in Atlantic Canada — Halifax (YHZ) and St. John’s (YYT) — by about 80%.

Air Canada has also slashed flights due to the pandemic and lack of government support. The Montreal-based carrier disclosed plans to end service to eight smaller communities in eastern Canada, including Bathurst (ZBF), North Bay (YYB) and Val d’Or (YVO), in June.

In addition, flights on popular boutique carrier Porter Airlines remain suspended through Dec. 15. The airline initially grounded its fleet in March expecting to takeoff again by June.

Related: Air Canada drops 8 cities from route map amid coronavirus adjustments

Canadian airlines have resumed more flying since the summer. In November, carriers plan to fly nearly 70% of what they flew a year ago in the domestic market, according to Cirium schedules. This does not include the suspensions unveiled by WestJet on Wednesday.

For comparison, U.S. airlines are only due to fly about 60% of what they flew a year ago during the month, Cirium shows.

But simply flying more flights does not mean airlines are doing so profitably. In his message, Sims said that WestJet has only flown about  1 million travelers the the seven months since March. This compares to 2 million flyers per month before COVID.

Related: Risk of coronavirus on planes less than getting struck by lightning

WestJet and Porter’s suspensions leave Air Canada as the only national carrier serving the eastern cities of Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton and Sydney in November, according to Cirium.

That is similar to the situation the communities faced after Air Canada acquired competitor Canadian Airlines International in 2000. WestJet slowly expanded to fill the gap and served all of the cities except Fredericton by 2009, Cirium shows.

WestJet has a partnership with Delta Air Lines that the two are seeking to elevate to a transborder joint venture. That pact is pending with U.S. authorities and faced opposition from several airlines, including JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, prior to COVID-19.

Related: Southwest Airlines wants WestJet to give up New York slots under Delta pact

Featured image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

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