Air Canada is bailing on the Penticton-Vancouver route effective April 1, a move the mayor describes as “devastating.”
The airline announced Thursday it will be cutting the number of domestic airports it serves from 62 to 40 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Penticton, with its three daily departures to Vancouver, is among the 22 airports to be chopped.
“Our immediate focus is on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees, customers and communities,” Air Canada president Calin Rovinescu said in a press release.
“At the same time, we are exploring with the government of Canada possibilities to maintain essential operations to enable as many Canadians as possible to return to Canada, and to support other vital transport needs, including the shipment of goods and cargo during the crisis as required in any state of emergency.”
The company says it plans to resume offering Penticton-Vancouver service as of May 1, but that comes as cold comfort to Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki, who called the suspension “a bad situation.”
“I’m very, very upset,” he said in an interview Thursday.
“Maybe even if we had one flight in per day that would have been bad enough. But all three of them to be cancelled – it’s devastating for the city of Penticton. Not only for our business people who have to commute back and forth ... but our tourists and all the other things we expect the airlines to bring forward.”
He added the situation doesn’t “speak well of Air Canada.”
“I think they could have come up with something better than what they’ve done,” he said.
However, the local MP said he knows the airline is “going through a terrible economic time,” and is “working on (its) survival.”
“They said nobody is flying, it’s not just Penticton,” said Richard Cannings, who represents South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
“They figure Kelowna is close enough for most travellers. I talked to them about how difficult it was for people from here to get to Kelowna if they don’t have somebody to drop them off.”
Cannings said he asked Air Canada to consider maintaining one flight to and from Vancouver, but the answer was no.
Passengers who had seats booked on one of the cancelled flights will get a full credit with Air Canada valid for two years.
WestJet, which operates the only other commercial flights out of Penticton with once-daily service to Calgary, said it has not yet made a decision on possible changes to its domestic network.