The airline industry is one of many that have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from factors beyond their control — such as border closures, mandatory post-travel quarantines and other government restrictions — the main challenge that airlines face is to make people want to fly again. Air Canada launched the CleanCare+ program on May 4 in an attempt to make passengers feel safe while flying. We spoke to Mark Galardo, Vice President of Network Planning and Alliances at Air Canada, for insight into the current and future operations of the Montreal-based airline, which is a major employer in the city.
Cult MTL: What are the restrictions for domestic flights in Canada?
Mark Galardo: You can currently fly within the country. Air Canada is still serving 40 Canadian cities today and there are no restrictions. Certain provinces within Canada have requirements where if you enter from a different province, then you are subject to a 14-day quarantine, which of course discourages air travel around the country. But the promise that we made is that we were going to continue connecting every single province and almost every territory in the country to our hubs, and we are still going to continue doing that for the foreseeable future. We are hoping that by the summer we will have roughly 25% of our normal operation up and running again.
CM: When does Air Canada believe we will be able to fly internationally again?
MG: We are hopeful that restrictions across the world for international travel are going to be relaxed. But just last week, for example, the UK put in place a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all in-bound travelers, especially for nonessential reasons. Spain has done the same. So right now governments are not all aligned on the relaxation of travel restrictions. We’re hoping that as the number of infections decrease around the world and the infection curve starts to flatten, that these restrictions will be relaxed. Obviously keeping Canada connected with the world is really important for our economy, for our tourism sector. There are thousands of Canadian jobs depending on this.
CM: Once flying resumes, are prices expected to increase, decrease or stay approximately the same as they were before COVID-19?
MG: It’s tough to comment on that because we don’t know exactly what the world’s going to look like post-COVID. There are a lot of things that go into the price of an airline ticket. What’s the price of fuel going to be? What is the competitive landscape going to look like? Which market is going to rebound first: Is it domestic travel; travel to leisure destinations in the U.S.; is it travel to Europe? Is the rebound stronger than we thought? Is there more demand than we initially thought — that’s going to have an impact on price. If the restrictions are lifted and people start flying again, then demand may exceed supply. It’s our view that there are going to be fewer players in the market, simply because COVID-19 has had such a cataclysmic effect on the industry. The competitive landscape post-COVID is going to be much more challenging, and there are many airlines around the world that will struggle to survive without some kind of government intervention. What that does to supply or what that does to prices is simply speculative at this time.
CM: Are all direct flights expected to resume or will some flights be cancelled outright?
MG: We’re going to continue having a very strong hub in Montreal. The great majority of the routes that we launch out of Montreal have been very successful and will stay. As we inevitably have a three- to five-year ramp-up to get back to the pre-COVID normal, it is possible that some routes from certain cities may not return. But over the build-back period, the majority of the routes that we once flew out of Montreal will come back.
CM: Is there anything else Canadians might not yet be aware of concerning Air Canada’s current operations?
MG: Right now, we are also focusing a lot on cargo flights. We have 150 all-cargo flights per week all over the world to make sure that trade continues to be facilitated. On May 20th, we performed our 1,000th all-cargo flight since the start of the COVID 19 Pandemic. We’ve done a lot to make sure that we’re bringing a good flow of PPE to Canadians and all of the essential workers in Canada. This is a big focus of our business right now. ■
Mark Galardo is Vice President of Network Planning and Alliances at Air Canada.
For more details about the ClearCare+ program by Air Canada, please visit their website.
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