Ottawa airport traffic numbers stagnant in 2019; popular Chicago service set to resume

ottawa
Photo by Jan Jasinski.

A popular route to Chicago’s O’Hare airport is coming back to the Ottawa airport’s list of direct connections as the local travel hub reports a slight decline in overall passenger volumes in 2019.

A total of 5,106,487 people passed through the gates of the Ottawa airport in 2019, down slightly from the 5,110,801 passengers the airport saw last year. The stagnant 2019 figures follow a six per cent growth rate in total traffic figures from 2017 to 2018.

The dropoff in traffic came from YOW’s domestic connections and transborder travel to the United States. Domestic was just under four million passengers in 2019 as compared to slightly above that mark in 2018. Meanwhile, some 686,297 people travelled to or from the U.S. through Ottawa last year, a decrease of five per cent from 2018.

The silver lining in YOW’s 2019 figures was a spike in international passenger volumes. The number of overseas travellers passing through Ottawa hit 426,637 last year, an increase of 10 per cent from 2018 and the highest annual total in the segment since 2015.

Chicago flights to return

The Ottawa airport’s declining transborder traffic figures might soon stabilize with the restoration of direct flights to Chicago. A YOW spokesperson confirmed to OBJ Monday that United Airlines is set to resume its daily, non-stop service between Ottawa and Chicago following a temporary suspension starting last year.

United’s direct service between YOW and Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD) – one of the highest-traffic travel hubs in the world – will resume with twice-daily flights starting March 5. Service will increase to three daily round-trip flights on weekdays starting May 8.

The flights, operated under the United Express banner, will usually be served by a 50-seat regional jet with the potential for the 70-seat variant on occasion.

United Airlines first put its YOW-ORD service on hold last June, with representatives telling OBJ that the suspension of direct flights was likely to be temporary. A United spokesperson said then the decision was primarily based on fleet availability during the busy summer season.

Though United has maintained its flights from Ottawa to Newark and Washington-Dulles, YOW’s transborder traffic has taken a hit since United suspended its Chicago service. While transborder passenger volumes were largely on the rise in the first half of the 2019, total traffic in the U.S. travel segment was 299,887 for the second half of 2019, a drop of 13 per cent from the same period in 2018.

YOW’s spokesperson told OBJ the loss of Chicago flights was a “contributing factor” to the local airport’s traffic turbulence this year. She also pointed to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft, which had a “system-wide effect” on travel networks and forced airlines to shift their fleets to address the void. As a result, routes through YOW lost some capacity.

Barring a dramatic change in market dynamics, local officials are expecting the YOW-ORD service to be restored permanently.

YOW-ORD flight schedule 2020 season:

Mar 5-May 7, 2020: 14x/week (2x daily)

May 8-Dec 31, 2020: 19x/week (3x daily Mon-Fri, 2x daily Sat-Sun)