‘Getting back to normal’: Comox Valley Airport sees first international flight since pandemic


Saturday marked a big milestone for the Comox Valley Airport, as it hosted its first international departure since the pandemic.

The direct flight between Comox and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, happened weekly prior to COVID-19, but it’s taken a lot of time to reach the point of its return.

“It’s wonderful. It’s nice not to stop, especially in the U.S. right now,” said Gerry Vaughan, a passenger from Nanaimo, in an interview with CHEK News.

“It only starts in November, which is perfect timing to get away from the storm season at home,” said passenger Nancy Vaughan.

The weekly flight to Mexico had been a popular service at the airport for years, drawing passengers from Nanaimo north. But it came to a grinding halt at the beginning of the pandemic.

The head of the Comox Valley Airport Commission says he’s thrilled it’s back.

“What it signifies is getting back to normal,” said Mike Atkins, the Comox Valley Airport Commission’s CEO.

“We were restricted from having international flights as of the beginning of the pandemic, March 2020, and while that restriction was lifted earlier in the year this is our first opportunity to have an international flight to a sun destination so we’re pretty happy.”

Former Campbell River mayor Andy Adams is among the excited passengers for the direct flight’s return.

“After doing three flights from Comox to Calgary to Puerto Vallarta last year, two out of three with long delays, one overnight, and a lot of challenges this is just a really welcome relief. It’s really great for the entire north island,” said Adams.

The airline industry has slowly been building back and it’s been the same for airports. Comox airport is tracking to reach 80 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger volumes this year.

“September was really good at about 87 per cent, so it’s gradually increasing month over month. We expect Christmas to be almost normal based on pent-up travel demand, people that haven’t seen their families in a few years, and the fact that the restrictions have been lifted and people can travel again,” said Atkins.

Atkins said with the return of this weekly flight to Mexico, the airport has all the same routes as it did pre-pandemic, though some have lower capacity. Given the current trajectory, the airport should reach pre-pandemic passenger counts by the end of 2023.

Yet today showed how even direct flights can face pitfalls.

This afternoon, WestJet tweeted that a system-wide outage was impacting operations. Passengers bound for Mexico from Comox boarded shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, more than four hours later than scheduled.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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