As travel restrictions continue to loosen across the province, the nation’s second-largest airline has launched four new routes to airports across Vancouver Island.
WestJet recently launched four new non-stop flights from three Vancouver Island airports and restored previously cancelled service on six other Island routes.
The new direct routes are Comox–Toronto, Victoria–Ottawa, Victoria–Saskatoon, and Victoria–Winnipeg.
WestJet has also restored service on its Comox–Edmonton, Comox–Vancouver, Nanaimo–Vancouver, Victoria–Toronto, and Victoria–Kelowna routes, which they had cancelled due to the pandemic.
The airline also brought back long-desired direct flights between Nanaimo and Edmonton, following a five-year hiatus.
All of the routes are now in operation, with Victoria–Toronto flights resuming June 30.
“We have been talking to a lot of people and we are listening to what investments Vancouver Island wants and needs and all of these routes have been planned in advance,” Morgan Bell, media spokesperson for WestJet, told CHEK News. “It’s exciting that they are now going to fully take flight.”
With British Columbia reopening and the demand for domestic travel slowly increasing, Bell says it’s only natural for the company to not only restore cancelled routes but launch new ones.
“Canadians are going to travel domestically this summer and inbound tourism to Vancouver Island is important,” Bell explained. “While I know everybody loves to stay on Vancouver Island, there are also people from Vancouver Island that want to get back out and connect with friends and family across the country and other places.”
Comox gets direct flights to Toronto, Edmonton flights return to Nanaimo
Perhaps the most eye-catching of the new routes is the non-stop service between Comox and Toronto, which operates on a weekly basis — at least for now.
“The hope is that as more and more people begin flying again and these flights get full, we’ll add more service,” said Bell.
The new route launched June 26 — just as Air Canada restarted non-stop service between Canada’s most populated city and nearby Nanaimo — and brings the total number of airports on Vancouver Island with direct Toronto flights to three.
“It’s going to be great to see a major city like Toronto connect directly into Comox,” said Bell.
Another notable route is Nanaimo to Edmonton, which began operations on June 25 and runs twice a week. Although it was listed as a new route in the company’s press release, WestJet briefly operated non-stop flights between the two cities in early 2016 but cancelled them after only three months due to the economic downturn in Alberta.
Bell says WestJet is thrilled to restart service after more than five years, explaining that there has been no shortage of demand for service between the two regions.
“There’s so much interest in northern Alberta that’s coming through the Edmonton airport from Nanaimo, and also guests from Vancouver Island going into Edmonton,” she said. “There are pretty strong connections between the two cities, so it’s great to see that route come back.”
While the restoration of old routes and the addition of new routes, may seem like a lot, Bell says WestJet is still operating well below pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re still at 60 per cent reduction in terms of capacity from what would have been 2019. In July 2019, we were operating about 600 flights a day, and this July, we’re only looking at about 300,” she said. “We still have a really long way to go.”
Airport, flying experience will be different amid the pandemic
With an increasing number of people becoming comfortable with the idea of getting on a plane after more than a year on the ground, Bell says those who are planning on taking to the skies should be prepared for some changes.
“It’s definitely very different. I took my first flight today in six months, and it felt very different,” she said.
That’s because airports have implemented new rules and safety measures throughout the pandemic such as mandatory mask-wearing, dedicated entrance and exit flow, and increased cleaning throughout terminals. Victoria International Airport, for example, is limiting access to its terminal building to just passengers with tickets, though there are some exceptions.
“While we’re restoring all this and people are excited to get on the move again, we also understand that it’s going to be a new experience for them,” said Bell. “I mean, people haven’t been in an airport for potentially 18 months.”
“I think it’s going to be a good experience, but it’s also going to be something that people need to prepare for and be ready for.”
As a result, Bell suggests people read all the rules and travel requirements well before their flight and arrive at the airport even earlier than the recommended 90 minutes prior to departure.
“We’re still in the pandemic, there are new rules, and there are different screening points and security points to get through,” she said. “So, I would just always say give yourself extra time and just be willing and flexible to adapt to any changes that come your way.”