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Air Canada, Porter Take Flight Again as Canada Reopens

Edward Russell
July 6th, 2021 at 3:42 PM EDT
Porter Air Canada Montreal

Photo credit: Air Canada and Porter Airlines are resuming routes as Canada's air travel recovery picks up speed. Flickr / Caribb

Air Canada is returning to nine long-haul destinations this summer as Canadian airlines begin to spool up their schedules amid the country’s gradual reopening.

The Star Alliance carrier will resume flights on 17 routes from its Montreal, Toronto Pearson, and Vancouver gateways in July and August, Air Canada said Tuesday. Athens, Casablanca, Dublin, Dubai, Geneva, Lisbon, Rome, Vienna and Zurich have or are returning to its map this summer. All in, Air Canada will fly as much as 35 percent of its 2019 capacity by August — its highest since the crisis began — according to Cirium schedules.

The additions are the latest in Canadian airlines’ service resumptions amid loosening travel restrictions both within the country and for international arrivals. Mandatory hotel quarantines for international arrivals were dropped for fully vaccinated travelers on July 5, and provincial restrictions have eased as well. The lessening comes as Canada’s vaccination rate steadily climbs: 31 percent of people 12 years or older were fully inoculated and nearly 77 percent had received at least one vaccine dose as of July 5.

Citing the vaccine roll out and the easing of both some federal and provincial travel restrictions, Air Canada Senior Vice President of Network Planning and Revenue Management Mark Galardo said Tuesday that the “summer is looking brighter.” The airline has seen an uptick in travel demand in just the past few weeks, he added.

At the same time, Ottawa is coughing up more relief for the country’s beleaguered carriers. Porter Airlines is the latest recipient with an agreement for up to CAD$270 million ($217 million) in government loans and grants. Air Canada and Transat previously received federal aid. As a condition to the relief, all three carriers have agreed to provide refunds to travelers whose travel was affected by the pandemic.

The relief will allow Porter to resume flights in September after an 18-month suspension that began in March 2020 and had many speculating whether the quirky carrier would ever return. Initially, the airline will offer flights between its Toronto Billy Bishop base and Montreal, Ottawa and Thunder Bay on September 8, and expand to Boston, Chicago Midway, Halifax, Moncton, Newark, Quebec City, St. John’s and Washington Dulles by the end of the month.

“This is the moment our team members, passengers and the communities we serve have been waiting for,” Porter CEO Michael Deluce said in a statement. “The pandemic has progressed to the point that we can now begin restoring service across our network.”

Canada’s second largest carrier, WestJet, is notably absent from the list of airlines receiving government relief. But that has not stopped WestJet from resuming flights and adding new markets to take advantage of what travel recovery occurs this summer. The airline has returned to destinations it suspended in Atlantic Canada and will add 11 new domestic routes by the end of July. WestJet has even plans its first-ever service to Amsterdam in August.

Altogether, WestJet could fly as much as 78 percent of its pre-crisis system capacity — and 98 percent of domestic capacity — by August, Cirium schedule data show. No small step for an airline that, as recently as March, was flying just 7 percent of what it flew two years earlier.

A WestJet spokesperson said the airline “continues discussions” with the Canadian government on a possible relief package.

The developments at Canadian carriers may signal the sustained travel recovery that they have waited for since Covid-19 decimated air travel more than a year ago. However, the recovery comes with a number of major caveats. For one, the international connecting traffic between the U.S. and both Asia and Europe that Air Canada relies on remains moribund. And, with the Covid-19 variants spreading, the threat of new restrictions remains a possibility.

That uncertain outlook has at least two Canadian carriers hedging their passenger recovery bets. Air Canada and WestJet plan a fleet of dedicated freights as they emerge from the crisis. The former will introduce its first two Boeing 767 freighters later this year, and the latter its first Boeing 737-800 freighters early in 2022. Both airlines hope to take advantage of what many expect to be a sustained increase in air freight amid a jump in e-commerce and ground shipping bottlenecks.

UPDATED: The story has been updated to include comments from WestJet.

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