TORONTO — “Great news.” “Customers love the convenience.” “A step in the right direction.” “THRILLED.”
Those were just some of the elated reactions Travelweek heard from travel advisors as they celebrated the return of international flights to their airports.
As announced yesterday by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, starting Nov. 30 eight more cities – Waterloo, St. John’s, Hamilton, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Abbotsford and Victoria – will welcome back international flights.
“We are THRILLED with the announcement that additional airports, including Saskatoon, will be allowed to accept international flights. We have been working with local government and other tourism stakeholders lobbying for this to happen for months as we knew this was key to having a strong rebound in bookings and a profitable winter season,” says Jamie Milton, co-owner of Uniglobe Carefree Travel in Saskatoon.
The removal of the blanket travel advisory against travel out of Canada was the first hurdle to fall, and the reopening of international flights is the second, says Milton.
“We are very optimistic. We had a lot of clients who were holding tight, wanting to book, but hesitant as they were worried the flights would be cancelled. We were seeing an increase in bookings already yesterday and I think there will be a big boost of bookings, now that the future of our flights is certain. We can’t wait to see our clients enjoying vacations once more,” she says.
Also in Saskatchewan is home-based travel advisor Carrie Anne Gillespie, based in Regina. “This announcement is such great news for our province!” says Gillespie. “The phones and emails have been coming in with questions and excitement.”
Gillespie says many of her clients are excited to have their guaranteed direct flights. Other clients are still hesitant because of the PCR testing requirements. But overall, she says, “we all agreed this is a big step in the right direction. I can really begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
At his briefing yesterday Minister Alghabra noted that just over 30 airports across Canada typically have international flights. Asked about the remaining gateways, Alghabra said: “We’re now up to 18 … and there’s still more to go … I’m not able to [provide] a date but we’ll certainly want to reopen them as quickly as possible, but also as prudently as possible.”
The 10 Canadian airports currently accepting international flights are: Halifax Stanfield International, Quebec City Jean Lesage International, Montreal-Trudeau International, Ottawa/Macdonald–Cartier International, Toronto Pearson International, Billy Bishop Toronto City Centre, Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International, Edmonton International, Calgary International, and Vancouver International.
Sandy Willett and her colleagues at Vision Travel in Waterloo, ON knew it was a question of when, not if. “The flights were already in the system for booking so we assumed it would be good but nice to know it is now confirmed. We’ve already been quoting and booking the packages,” says Willett.
She added: “We didn’t really notice any increase in calls [yet] but it will eventually lead to more inquiries I’m sure. A lot of people in this area were already aware of the flights from other years. Prices are usually a little higher than departing from Toronto but most customers love the convenience, and love to avoid the big airports so are willing to pay for it. It’s great to know that flights can go ahead for the winter season.”
Tour operators and airlines are cheering too.
“We’re thrilled that the Canadian government has opened more airports to international travel,” says Mark Williams, President, Sunwing Airlines. “Our regional gateways have always been core to our operations at Sunwing and we pride ourselves on offering frictionless travel experiences right from customers’ doorsteps. With service from nearly all of these regional gateways coast to coast, we’re looking forward to flying Canadians back to the tropics from their local airport of choice right in time for the holiday season.”