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Omicron is the new wild card in normalized travel

International tourism picks up as airlines reinstate and launch more flight routes
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Before the federal government advised against international travel, and countries around the world ramped up restrictions, the Vancouver Airport Authority said it expected up to 45,000 passengers to travel daily through Vancouver International Airport this holiday season.

Restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant have made travel more cumbersome and unpredictable for travellers, but indicators show people have been willing to navigate obstacles to take vacations or travel for business.

It remains to be seen whether Canadians will heed the federal government’s recent move to officially advise them to avoid non-essential international travel. Health MInister Adrian Dix then advised British Columbians avoid non-essential travel within Canada

Speculation is that the B.C. government may later today put in place health orders halting non-essential travel within B.C.

This all comes after airlines had been seeing a bump in traffic. 

Major Canadian airlines carried 2.9 million passengers on scheduled and charter services in September — more than triple the number of passengers carried in September 2020, although still only 42.5% as many passengers as in September 2019.

The recent rise in traffic comes as airlines reinstate many routes that were cut during the pandemic.

British Airways, for example, stopped flying between Vancouver and London’s Heathrow Airport, but resumed that route in September. 

Lufthansa abandoned flights between Vancouver and Munich, but resumed that route in August.

Air Canada and WestJet stopped flying between Vancouver and Oahu, and to Maui, only to resume those flights this fall.  Air Canada also halted flights between Vancouver and Sydney, Australia, and reactivated that route on Dec. 14. 

“Air Canada’s Sydney schedule is currently planned at three times weekly, until the end of March, and then to ramp up to daily,” Air Canada told BIV in an email.

“Operating schedules are subject to change based on the trajectory of COVID-19 and various international governments’ border policies, which can change quickly.”

Airlines have launched new routes during the pandemic. 

Turkish Airlines had planned to begin non-stop flights between Vancouver and Istanbul in June 2020 but the pandemic delayed that route’s launch to May 2021.

Singapore Airlines launched its first non-stop flights between Vancouver and Singapore on Dec. 3. The airline originally planned to end the seasonal flights on February 15, but strong demand prompted it to extend its season until at least March 26.

Two of the four weekly flights from Vancouver to Singapore are part of Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program.

Travellers on those flights are required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, and two negative PCR tests — one before boarding and another after arriving. 

“We are encouraged to see healthy demand for the service, particularly for the VTL flights that offer quarantine-free entry to Singapore,” the airline told BIV in an email. 

Flair Airlines last month launched Canada’s first scheduled flights to Hollywood-Burbank Airport out of Vancouver. The smaller Los Angeles area airport is closer to film studios and may appeal to people in the B.C. film sector or others who want to avoid the hectic Los Angeles International Airport. 

Flair is also newly flying out of Vancouver to Mesa, Arizona, and this month added Vancouver flights to Las Vegas and to Palm Springs. 

The budget airline has expansion plans. 

It revealed on Dec. 15 that it will lease more planes to increase its fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft. 

In 2020, Flair operated three; that has increased to 12 planes. The airline intends to operate 20 planes by mid-2022 and to 30 planes by the end of 2023.

New flight routes out of Vancouver set to launch in summer 2022 include JetBlue flying to Boston and to New York City’s JFK International Airport, as well as Sun Country Airlines flying to Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

gkorstrom@biv.com

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