Cross-border travel by land may have just returned but air travellers from Winnipeg to U.S. destinations will still face lots of uncertainty and significantly fewer choices.
The number of direct flights from Winnipeg to U.S. destinations has never been bountiful. For some time during the pandemic no international flights were allowed.
But while air travel starts to pick up — the Winnipeg airport is now at about 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic traffic — this week United Airlines dealt a disappointing setback to the Winnipeg airport and local travellers, letting it be known the airline will likely not be resuming its direct flights to Chicago and Denver.
Airlines are struggling with every manner of logistical consideration — including staffing up again, deployment of planes and trying to gauge relative demand from region to region.
Tyler MacAfee, vice-president, communications and government relations for the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said he believes United’s decision to continue to delay resumption of service from Winnipeg was more about its own asset deployment than it is about attracting enough business out of this market.
"It’s not really an issue about the Winnipeg market itself. It’s really about their resource allocation," MacAfee said. "The challenge for airlines and everyone in the industry is getting that capacity back."
The online airline industry publication, Simple Flying, reported on nine routes United was shelving, including the Chicago-to-Winnipeg and Denver-to-Winnipeg flights noting that most were short flights with other airports that United services within driving distance. The only outlier among them was the Winnipeg destination.
In response to a request for a rationale not to resume the Winnipeg routes, a spokesperson for United told the Free Press that, "We are maintaining the ongoing suspension of service to Winnipeg that’s been in place since April 2020 but will continue to review the market through 2022."
MacAfee said there have been on-going discussions with United which has not been active in this market since the start of the pandemic.
"We have been talking to them about when they would restart and it’s now being pushed out further," he said. "We were hoping for the spring. We will keep talking and working with them to get them back as soon as they can."
With the absence of direct flights to Chicago and Denver, there are now only two regular scheduled direct flights to U.S. destinations available from Winnipeg — Delta’s service to Minneapolis which started back up in September and the brand new service to Mesa/Phoenix just inaugurated by WestJet’s ultra low-cost carrier, Swoop, that started last week.
Swoop also started direct seasonal flights to Puerto Vallarta and will commence service to Orlando in December.
"We still know there will be options out of this market, which is important," MacAfee said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.