Crucial week for Air Canada ... More and more Canadians head south to fly
Tens of thousands of Canadians are poised to be flying Air Canada this week, but it's hard to know what to expect.
On Tuesday, Aveos, the company that's been doing most of the airline's aircraft maintenance said it's shutting its doors. Obviously, the job losses at Aveos are a bigger deal than some flight delays and cancellations. It's tragic for these workers to be suddenly unemployed.
Still, from a travel perspective this isn't helping Air Canada, which has been going through all sorts of labour issues. The company issued a press release on Tuesday telling everyone, basically, to pay no attention to the Aveos folks behind the curtain (a la Wizard of Oz) and that they have a contingency plan. I guess they do, but I always like it when someone says "No, I don't have a contingency plan. I'm doing it this way and if it doesn't work, I'm screwed."
For the record, here's what Air Canada said Tuesday afternoon: To ensure Air Canada's customers are not inconvenienced and are able to continue travelling and booking Air Canada with confidence, the airline will be activitating its contingency plan.
Notice they didn't say customers will be able to continue travelling on time; just that we can be confident about travelling. I'm not sure what that means, because I'm pretty confident that when I travel it's important to be on time.
Anyway, we shall see. Lawyers for the company on Monday suggested some 3,000 passengers could be affected if Aveos couldn't conduct needed repairs on a raft of Air Canada planes. So I suspect we'll see some flight cancellations over the next few days. Again, though, it's pretty hard to gauge. Air Canada may not know what's going to happen, but they haven't exactly been making us me feel all warm and fuzzy about things.
MORE CANUCKS FLYING SOUTH OF THE BORDER
Pretty funny. But not really. The Canadian Airports Council on Tuesday issued a study that found there were a record 4.8 million one-way trips made by Canadians to U.S. airports last year. That's up a whopping 15 per cent from 2010. Then, this morning, over my new Greek yogurt at breakfast, I noticed an Air Canada seat sale for Canadian destinations. The "SALE" price for Toronto to Vancouver is $552 return.
Sadly, folks, that passes as a sale in the true north strong and expensive.
Just for fun, this morning I went to Expedia to look at a mock trip from here to San Francisco in early July for eight days. The fare on Air Canada was $733 return for a direct flight. It wasn't dirt cheap flying out of Buffalo-Niagara, but the fare was $499 (including one stop). Not a huge savings, but if you had a family of four the difference is more than $500. You could drive to Buffalo, stay the night at a hotel for $150 and park for free and still be $350 ahead, minus gas costs of perhaps $50 or even $100. You wouldn't save a ton, but an extra $250 or $300 in your jeans is a lot. Or you can park for $7 a day, plus taxes, from the ads I've seen. Heck, for 10 days that's only $70 - which is what it cost me for a cab from Pearson to 1 Yonge St. a week or two ago.
I saw something the other day that suggested it cost something like $24,000 (my numbers could be off a bit) to land some jumbo jets at Toronto Pearson, but only half of that for some European airports. No wonder folks drive from Toronto to Buffalo or Niagara to make a flight to Florida.
A friend at the Star asked me Tuesday about flying to Europe, complaining the cheapest ticket he could find for Toronto to Europe this summer was about $1,100. I suggested he look into the price of catching a flight from Buffalo or Niagara to New York, or taking a Porter/WestJet/AirCanada flight to New York City (those prices are decent) and seeing what he could get for a New York to Europe ticket. Alas, it doesn't seem to be much better; certainly not enough to justify the cost of getting to New York. The quick flights I found for July showed a Toronto to London fee of $1334 on Air Canada and $1166 from JFK in New York. So no savings to be had and a lot of inconvenience.
Anyway, the Canadian Airports Council clearly has some interesting stats things to say. Here's an excerpt from their Tuesday press release:
"From New Brunswick to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada's airports are losing travellers to airports in U.S. border states due to lower cost tickets," said CAC Small Airports Caucus Chair Bernard LeBlanc, also president and CEO of one of the affected border airports, Saint John Airport. "The reasons for the cost differential are numerous, but an important element is that governmental fiscal approaches to aviation in Canada put us at a cost disadvantage."
In its study, the CAC looked at ticket prices in a handful of U.S. leisure markets in which some of the heaviest competition from U.S. airports exists. The total ticket cost per passenger can be notably higher out of a Canadian airport compared to a nearby border airport in the U.S. Included in the additional cost are the Air Travellers Security Charge, Harmonized Sales Tax, the hidden cost of airport rent paid by airports to the federal government and the navigation and airport improvement fees paid to fund infrastructure."
"Canada's approach to aviation infrastructure for the past 20 years has been predicated on the idea that the industry should be financially self-sufficient. We achieved this and without taxpayer support Canada has a modern system of airports able to support Canadian traffic demands and economic growth," said CAC Large Airports Caucus Chair and President and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal Jim Cherry. "However Canada's aviation sector today is less cost competitive and Canadians are voting with their feet. We welcome the opportunity to engage with government on ways to continue to be financially self-sufficient while ensuring government policy for aviation is able to promote our industry for the next 20 years."
"When we think about a 'missing airport' of nearly five million Canadians flying out of the U.S., we are talking about thousands of potential jobs for Canadians, and millions in potential wages and economic output," said CAC Cross Border Shopping Working Group Chair and Vancouver Airport Authority Director, Aviation Marketing John Korenic. "Our U.S. airports and air carrier counterparts compete vigorously for this business, and we don't knock Canadian air travellers for taking advantage of it. But it would be great to bring this business back to Canada. I'd like be able say one day that we found our missing airport."