Covid-19 restrictions lead to continued air travel slump

Published on: Jan 21, 2021 | Tags: COVID-19, Canada Arrivals Statistics

Statistics Canada has released its quarterly report on international arrivals by Canada to air. This report covers the fourth quarter of 2020, including the months from October to December, and reveals an air travel sector still badly hit by the travel restrictions needed to limit the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travel restrictions

In March 2020, the federal government introduced significant restrictions on air travel into Canada. Although procedures have changed slightly since the first restrictions, the basics remain the same: unnecessary air travel to Canada from other countries is prohibited, and travellers must undergo a period of quarantine after arriving.

As a result of these restrictions, air travel to Canada dropped significantly. Only four Canadian airports are currently accepting international flights. These are Calgary International, Montreal-Trudeau, Toronto-Pearson and Vancouver International.

Statistics Canada's report includes only travellers who entered the country through an airport terminal that uses Primary Inspections Kiosks (PIKs); this means that some categories of traveller, such as NEXUS card users or those arriving on private flights, will be excluded from the totals. Nonetheless, these numbers still represent the majority of international travellers arriving in Canada.

Overseas arrivals

Arrivals of visitors from overseas (that is, from all countries other than the United States) continued at low levels throughout the final quarter of 2020. In some cases, numbers were affected by coronavirus outbreaks in the origin country; for instance, Canada shut down air travel from the United Kingdom on 23 December following reports of a highly infectious new strain of the virus spreading rapidly there. Similarly, a spike in Covid-19 cases in France may have caused French travellers to cancel their travel plans during this quarter.

Overall, around 46,500 travellers from overseas arrived in Canada by air during this period. The number did increase slightly over the quarter: in November, 436 travellers arrived in Canada from overseas each day, while by December the daily number was up to 662. However, these still represent a significant drop from previous years.

Arrivals from the USA

Like overseas arrivals, arrivals from the United States remained low in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to historical trends. Most travellers from the United States enter Canada by land, even during the current border closure. Only around 25,800 travellers entered Canada from the US by air during this period.

However, air travel numbers do show a steady improvement over this quarter. October saw a daily average of 204 travellers from the United States arriving in Canada, while in December the daily number was up to 385.

Canadians returning from overseas

In addition to travellers from other countries, the report also covers Canadians returning from travel overseas. Approximately 217,000 Canadians returned to the country by air during the fourth quarter. 93,800 of these arrived in December, representing a daily average of 3,025. This was a significant increase from the October daily average of 1,883.

2020 as a whole

2020 has seen air travel to Canada drop to less than a third of its 2019 totals. The overall total of both international travellers and returning Canadians for 2020 was 5.6 million, less than a third of the 2019 total of over 20 million. This illustrates the dramatic impact that Covid-19 has had on Canada's air travel industry, especially considering that the low total for 2020 includes the pre-restriction months of January and February.

Conclusions

Statistics Canada's report on international air travel reveals the significant damage done to air travel by the effects of Covid-19. These restrictions, although necessary to limit the spread of the virus, have had significant effects not only on airlines but on many related industries, including travel, hospitality, and the labour market overall. Although vaccinations are beginning, it is not known when Canada's travel restrictions will be relaxed, and the possibility exists that similar reduced numbers may appear in at least the first quarter of 2021.

Information on early 2021 will begin to appear soon enough: beginning in February 2021, Statistics Canada plans to integrate its quarterly reports on air travel and its monthly reports on other forms of travel into a single monthly report, providing more frequent updates on travel to Canada. Future updates will chart the ways in which the Canadian travel industry responds to -- and hopefully recovers from -- the effects of Covid-19.