Toronto-based Porter Airlines has delayed its restart for a third time, citing travel restrictions and quarantine rules intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Porter’s delay is another sign airlines are struggling to regain business as the pandemic continues. Montreal’s Air Transat last week told customers it is cancelling its winter routes from cities in Western Canada to U.S. cities and sun spots. Air Transat resumed flying on July 23 after winding down operations in March for what was to be a six-week shutdown.
Porter previously announced – then pushed back – service resumptions on June 29 and July 29. The airline, which grounded all planes on March 21 and laid off most of its 1,500-member work force, said on Tuesday it plans to restart on Oct. 7, not Aug. 31.
Porter operates out of Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, and flies De Havilland Dash-8s to cities in Eastern Canada and the United States.
“We never intended to suspend operations for such an extended period of time,” Michael Deluce, chief executive officer of Porter, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the layers of travel restrictions are serving to keep most people at home and show no signs of easing. We will continue making decisions based on how the situation evolves.”
To encourage people to resume travel, the airline industry has highlighted measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus onboard planes and urged governments to ease travel restrictions. The airlines say the rules made sense in March, but can be eased in a manner that will foster economic growth and restore jobs.
But industry experts say many people are loath to fly amid a pandemic, no matter how freely they can do so.
“Even if the restrictions are lifted, there are people who won’t travel,” said Barry Prentice, who teaches transportation at the University of Manitoba.
Prof. Prentice said would-be travellers fall into two overlapping categories: those who refuse to travel because of fears of catching the illness, and those for whom the mandatory quarantines at home or abroad are impossible. “It’s a combination of those two things,” said Prof. Prentice, whose son in Montreal has been unable to visit him in Winnipeg because of quarantines.
People aged 60 and older – a key market for an airline’s winter sun destinations – are especially reluctant to travel because of their vulnerability to the virus and are planning to stay home, Prof. Prentice said, citing anecdotes from friends. “They all tell me they are getting their winter coats ready,” Prof. Prentice said from Winnipeg.
Canada’s borders are closed to most visitors until at least Aug. 21 and most people allowed to enter Canada must self-isolate for 14 days. Similarly, many countries have two-week quarantine requirements on visitors.
Within Canada, the Atlantic provinces bar most visitors from outside the region. Yukon bars residents of some provinces while Northwest Territories requires visitors to self-isolate for 14 days. Manitoba’s quarantine applies to people visiting from Eastern Canada, but not Northern Ontario.
John Gradek, who teaches aviation management at Montreal’s McGill University, said people are weary from keeping track of the shifting rules for travellers and the state of the outbreak at destinations. “It’s complicated to travel these days,” Mr. Gradek said by phone.
Airlines in Canada, including scheduled carriers such as Air Canada, and elsewhere are advertising busier schedules only to cancel the flights amid low sales, he said. Canadian airlines are offering credits not refunds, a practice that needs to change before carriers can earn the trust – and business – of the flying public, Mr. Gradek said.
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