Air Canada will launch an “abridged” schedule this summer with 97 destinations down from 220 last year, betting that coronavirus cases will decline and governments will ease restrictions to enable more international travel.
The carrier began its summer sales push by resuming service on 25 May to New York-LaGuardia, Washington-Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Governments in the USA and Canada have restricted “non-essential travel” between their nations through 22 June.
The Montreal-based flag carrier on 22 May had announced it would increase its network within Canada “from 34 routes in May to 58 routes in June, with more routes added in August and September”.
“Air Canada has also updated its schedule until the end of July with resumption of some services to the U.S., Caribbean, South American, European and Pacific markets,” the carrier says in a statement.
The carrier also has “tentative plans” to resume service to more routes between the USA and Canada if the two nations do not extend their restrictions against non-essential trans-border travel past 22 June. The capacity of Canada’s largest airline during May is down 93% year-over-year amid the travel restrictions of the pandemic, Cirium schedules data shows.
Air Canada has maintained operations to its major hubs including London, Zurich, Tokyo and Tel Aviv, but it plans to test demand for increased international service. The carrier in June and July plans to operate flights from Montreal to Athens, Rome and Geneva; from Toronto to Munich, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Rome and Athens; and from Calgary to Frankfurt.
Air Canada is seeking government approval to resume flights between Vancouver and Shanghai, which have been suspended since the end of January as a precaution against spreading coronavirus infections from China. Months after travel restrictions began, the airline’s customers “are expressing their eagerness to travel where it is safe to do so”, Air Canada’s chief commercial officer Lucie Guillemette says in a statement.
“While the world is making great progress against Covid-19, we know we must remain vigilant, which includes being flexible,” Guillemette says, noting that facemasks will be required on aircraft and tickets issued up to 30 June can be exchanged for loyalty miles or vouchers through a special cancellation policy.
The carrier may need that flexibility as its plans to resume international travel that could be stifled by government quarantine restrictions. Italy, once the epicentre for coronavirus in continental Europe, is reopening on June 3 with no restrictions, but the UK will impose a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all arrivals to the nation starting 8 June.
All arrivals to Canada and the USA, including citizens, are still required to remain in quarantine for 14 days after traveling from international locations. Those mandatory quarantines will hopefully “be rolled back” as coronavirus cases recede, Cowen airline analyst Helane Becker tells Cirium.
“We think Air Canada is looking ahead to later in the summer when tourism starts to resume as countries reopen their borders without restrictions,” Becker says. “All eyes will be on Italy and what happens after next week.”
Many airlines plan to roll back some capacity cuts on international routes in June and July to “test the waters” of air travel demand, says Bloomberg Intelligence airline analyst George Ferguson. He views Air Canada’s plans to reintroduce international flights as “really optimistic” because European governments are still trying to minimize coronavirus infections.
“You need to see a lot more of those restrictions lifted by countries” before international air travel demand bounces back, Ferguson says.
While a resumption of domestic travel within the USA could help the recovery of carriers based in that nation, Ferguson says domestic travel is less of a money maker in Canada, where the population is around 40 million people compared with 330 million in the USA.
“There is always a certain amount of friends and family travel and essential travel, so Air Canada wants as much of that as possible,” he says, noting its reliance on international flights revenue.
The reopening of travel infrastructure - like restaurants and hotels - will be key to a stable recovery for air travel demand, analysts say. But health monitoring agencies, including the US Center for Disease Control, have cautioned against hastily reopening the economy and allowing large public gatherings in order to avoid a second wave of infections.