Air Canada has decided to indefinitely suspend service at the Lethbridge airport beginning March 31.
In a statement, the airline cites routes not performing at the level required to ensure commercial sustainability and “the current environment” without specifically mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement reads: “We will be suspending our Air Canada Express flights between Lethbridge-Calgary, and Medicine Hat-Calgary as of the end of March. Such decisions are never taken lightly. These routes had not performed at the levels that were required to ensure they would be commercially sustainable and now with the current environment, a difficult decision was made to suspend these routes.
“Affected customers will be advised and offered travel options including full refunds. Air Canada is also in contact with the third party ground handlers who looked after these flights.
“We do review opportunities to restart routes, and any such decision would be made based on commercial factors such as demand, aircraft availability among other economic considerations.”
“They will not be making a public announcement as it is one of a number of service changes they’re making to all airports that serve less than 200,000 passengers a year,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.”
“We’re disappointed Air Canada is indefinitely suspending service in Lethbridge,” Spearman said.
“Since we’ve taken over operation of the airport, we’ve placed great emphasis on our desire to increase the viability of our airport,” Spearman added.
“We know our airport has great opportunity for growth of passengers as well as economic development,” he said.
Spearman points out that every time a major virus has occurred since 2000 there has been a drop in airline travel and he is confident Lethbridge will be able to move forward once the recovery period post COVID-19 begins.
As for the other Lethbridge airline, WestJet says the spread of COVID-19 is affecting business.
“The continued spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is a situation that has gripped the world and the effects on our business have been dramatic,” read a statement issued by WestJet.
The statement goes on to say: “We are reviewing our network to both reduce and temporarily pause an additional 12 per cent, or more, of our capacity. Reductions may include domestic, transatlantic, sun destinations and transborder and we will continue to adjust as demand changes. Details will be released when specifics are available.
“WestJet is also undertaking immediate cost reduction initiatives, including the following but not limited to:
· The freezing of discretionary spending
· A company-wide hiring freeze
· Offering voluntary-leave options”
“In the short term, I think the impact will be pretty limited. There’s lots of options for people that need to travel. People that were planning to travel anyway will likely just drive to Calgary or Great Falls depending on their connection,” said Economic Development Lethbridge CEO, Trevor Lewington.
“I think the concern is some of the limited cargo and air movement happening with some high value packages,” Lewington said.
He points out that residents who may have been travelling for meetings can always turn to video or phone conferences as an alternative.
Just like the mayor, he also hopes this disruption in air travel will be a temporary one.