New federal travel restrictions to halt few remaining flights to Winnipeg from U.S.

Even fewer passenger flights will be taking off and landing at the Winnipeg airport as a result of federal travel restrictions coming into effect next week.

Starting 10:59 p.m. CST on Feb. 3, all passenger, private and charter international flights, including from the U.S., will go through airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal only. Cargo flights are exempt.

Meanwhile, Canada’s main airlines — Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat — have agreed to cancel flights to the Carribean and Mexico until the end of April.

The federal government is also introducing a quarantine rule where international travellers will be swabbed for COVID-19 upon arrival to one of four Canadian airports, then pay to self-isolate in a government-approved hotel until the results come back.

“It’s disappointing for Winnipeg, where we’re seeing four airports that are going to see that service and we’re not going to have that in Winnipeg anymore,” said Tyler MacAfee, Winnipeg Airport Authority vice president of communications and government relations.

“We have hotels here in Winnipeg that could certainly do the same thing that they’re doing in those cities.”

Delta Air Lines still serves a flight between Winnipeg and Minneapolis, Minn., but that service will be cut in the coming days, said MacAfee.

The travel restrictions aim to reduce importing cases of COVID-19 variants, first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa. The variants are more transmissible — and potentially more deadly — than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

There have already been some cases of COVID-19 variants discovered in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. The U.K. variant, also known as the B117 variant, could significantly hinder Ontario’s ability to curb the spread of COVID-19, new modelling suggests.

Manitoba has also closed its borders for the same reason. As of Friday, most travellers coming to Manitoba must self-isolate for two weeks.

Passenger traffic plummets at YWG

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly hampered passenger traffic at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

Passenger traffic from October 2020 to December 2020 dropped by nearly 87 per cent compared to the same stretch in 2019, according to 4th quarter results released by the Winnipeg Airport Authority Friday.

Traffic last fall also dipped by 27 per cent compared to the previous quarter, the release says.

Passenger traffic at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport was nearly 87 per cent lower last fall than it was in fall 2019. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Cargo traffic however, is increasing. Shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine are coming through the Winnipeg airport, but many packages are as well, the release says.

In the final quarter of 2020, the number of cargo planes landing at the Winnipeg airport increased by 7.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, the release says.

Though the figures have yet to be audited, the airport authority is reporting revenues of $14.4 million last quarter — a steady drop from $33.9 million in same time period as 2019.

The airline industry, including the Winnipeg airport, have tried making air travel safer for passengers throughout the pandemic, said MacAfee, citing mask mandates, stricter cleaning regimens and installing ultraviolet lights on escalators.

But with further restrictions being implemented to dissuade the public from travelling, airports need financial support to stay afloat, he said.

“It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and saying, ‘O.K., now everything start up again,'” said MacAfee. “It’s going to take time.”

It can also be tough to get flight routes back in service once they’re discontinued, he added.

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