The low-cost airline Swoop says it will end its seasonal service between London, Ont., and Orlando, Fla., on March 23, several weeks earlier than originally planned.
The move comes as the WestJet-owned airline says it will suspend all service to Orlando Sanford International Airport, the smaller of Orlando’s two commercial international airports, a spokesperson said in a statement.
Swoop currently flies to Orlando from Hamilton, London, Toronto and Winnipeg.
“Seasonal service from Toronto (YYZ) to Orlando Sanford (SFB) will end May 1, and service from Hamilton International Airport (YHM) to Orlando has been extended through the summer, operating via Orlando International Airport (MCO) as of May 6,” the statement said.
Service from Winnipeg is not affected by the Orlando Sanford suspension, and the airline says those seasonal flights are set to end as planned on April 30.
Passengers with flights scheduled out of London after March 23 have been notified of the change by email, and have been offered a refund or the option to be rebooked on an alternate flight to Orlando Sanford from Hamilton or Toronto, the airline says.
“It is never our intention to disrupt our travellers’ plans and we understand how impactful these changes can be. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and are committed to providing travellers with as much notice as possible, re-accommodation options or a full refund,” the statement from Swoop said.
The airline is attributing the early wind-down of the London to Orlando route to “operational constraints” resulting from changes recently made at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office at Orlando Sanford airport to its hours of operation.
“Swoop’s departures for Orlando (Sanford) from London International Airport rely on US CBP in Orlando as it does not have US CBP services to allow the flight to be pre-cleared. These issues have made it very difficult to operate the route with confidence from London to Orlando,” the airline said.
The London Free Press reported last month that the 5 p.m. closure time of the Orlando Sanford U.S. customs office meant that London flights scheduled to land in Florida around 4 p.m. wouldn’t have enough time to be cleared if they were late arriving, and as a result, would be cancelled and rescheduled.
Flights arriving late into London from Florida or Mexico would result in cascading delays, with flights late leaving London for Orlando, the report said.
“We did work hard with them to try to ensure that was going to work, and we just didn’t want to leave the uncertainty with our passengers trying to go down there,” said Gerry Vanderhoek, director of commercial and air services at London International Airport.
“We’d like to clear the air a little bit that the flight’s not cancelled, it’s just ending a little early this year. It’s about two or three weeks earlier than expected. We do expect it to be back next year.”
London airport officials, Vanderhoek said, had been working with Orlando Sanford and with Swoop to “try to get this to a workable solution,” but says there was too much uncertainty to continue.
“At the end of the day, it was just something to really ensure that passengers who were going down to Disney with those expensive trips and expensive vacations, ensuring that they get to the other end and get that vacation they’ve been looking for,” Vanderhoek said.
“We used to go directly into MCO, which is Orlando International, and their customs is there a lot longer. Sanford’s a different airport and they’re ramping up their international service for the first time, so really we’re helping feed that airport, and we’ll work on those issues for the next season.”
Launched in 2018, Swoop currently operates with 16 planes in its fleet, made up of Boeing 737-800 NG and Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
Swoop’s other service out of London is to Cancun, Mexico. The twice-weekly flights are expected to wind down on April 14, according to the London airport.
On Monday, Swoop unveiled an expanded summer schedule featuring new service between London and Abbotsford, B.C. Twice-weekly flights will begin on May 19, expanding to four times per week on June 25, according to the London airport.
WestJet, Swoop’s parent company, currently offers thrice-weekly flights between London and Calgary. In May, the airline will increase those flights to twice-daily, and will introduce twice-weekly service to Edmonton.
Another ultra-low-cost carrier, Flair Airlines, currently operates weekly service between London and Tuscon, Ariz., and will introduce service to Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Vancouver in June.
Other carriers operating out of London airport include Sunwing, which offers service to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic as well as Cancun and Varadero in Mexico until mid-April, and Air Transat, which has service to Cancun and Punta Cana until late April.
Air Canada offers thrice-daily service to Toronto, and will begin daily service to Montreal in June.