While the holiday season is expected to be as “be busy as it was in 2019,” airport spokesperson Krista Kealey said Monday there's still no firm timeline for when flights from Ottawa to Europe will resume.
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Ottawa International Airport officials say they expect passenger volumes to reach pre-pandemic levels this holiday season, another sign the aviation industry’s resurgence is in full flight as travellers scratch their travel itch. “I would say things are looking very, very good,” airport authority spokesperson Krista Kealey told OBJ on Monday after the federal government announced it was providing $4 million in additional funding for recent upgrades to the terminal’s taxiway system. “It looks like the airlines are putting lots of seats in (for December travel) and people are buying them. We’re gearing up for it to be busy as it was in 2019.” According to U.S.-based flight-tracking firm FlightAware, there were a total of 195 arrivals and departures at Ottawa International Airport on Sunday, up from 145 on the same date last year and 71 in 2020, when pandemic-related travel restrictions were at their peak. It’s a similar story at airports across Canada as the industry gradually returns to more typical traffic levels seen before the COVID-19 crisis. As travel has increased in 2022, major airports such as Toronto Pearson International Airport and Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport have been plagued by flight delays and cancellations as the industry struggles to ramp up to pre-COVID staffing levels. Ottawa’s airport authority laid off dozens of employees in a cost-cutting move early in the pandemic, but Kealey said she’s confident the airport will be ready to handle the spike in passenger flows as the holiday season approaches. Kealey said the airport authority has done “lots of hiring” over the past several months, adding that tenants such as the terminal’s food and beverage concessions and retailers are also “having some success” at boosting their headcounts to meet renewed demand. Still, Kealey urged travellers to be patient as the airport readjusts to the surge in volumes that are part of the traditional holiday travel rush. While additional security screeners and other workers are being added, she noted that the system could still get log-jammed if a high number of workers call in sick. In addition, she said passengers who haven’t been to the airport since the screening area was relocated from the second to the third floor might want a bit of extra time to orient themselves to the new layout. “There are a lot of people who haven’t travelled in a while and may not be accustomed to it,” Kealey said. “Every day is a new day, especially when you’re dealing with increasing rates of different respiratory viruses and a bit of a resurgence in COVID as well. We’re really hoping that everybody has a very healthy travel season so that the impact on our passengers is mitigated.” Canadian airports such as Pearson and Trudeau were among the worst in North America for flight delays and cancellations this summer. Kealey said such incidents can cause a “ripple effect” in Ottawa for passengers who miss connections or face rescheduled flights as a result of hiccups elsewhere. “All it takes is one or two flights to get cancelled or to arrive late to really set off a chain reaction through the system,” she explained. “We do our best to mitigate that. We’re going to do our best as a community to get you where you’re going as quickly and safely as possible.” Meanwhile, Kealey said the airport is “slowly but surely” rebuilding its network of direct flights to the U.S., with Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Newark, Orlando, Tampa and Washington, D.C., now on the docket and Boston scheduled to be added next summer. But she said it is still anybody’s guess when a full slate of U.S. destinations will return to YOW. Kealey noted that it is up to airlines, not the airport authority, to add routes – decisions that are usually driven by market demand. “We’re certainly crossing our fingers that we get (more U.S. routes) in 2024,” Kealey said. “There are a lot of voices that are calling for it. As much as everybody is clamouring for it, we are as well. We know it’s a game-changer. We will keep doing what we can to try and get (expanded U.S.) service back as quickly as possible.” But it appears ocean-hoppers looking to fly directly to Europe from Ottawa could be out of luck, at least for a while yet. Air Canada suspended its routes to London’s Heathrow airport early in the pandemic, and Lufthansa also scrapped its plan to replace Air Canada’s seasonal summer flights from Ottawa to Frankfurt in 2020 as the virus wreaked havoc with the industry. Kealey said Monday there is no timeline for when routes from YOW to destinations across the Atlantic will be re-established. “We’re still working closely with Air Canada, and we’ll work with other carriers if there’s an opportunity there as well,” she said.