Passenger drop hits bottom line for Vancouver airport, businesses

News provided by Vancouver Sun – Link to full story and updates

Flights from Mainland China to YVR decreased by 50 per cent in February, and the airport is forecasting a three- to five-per-cent reduction in passengers for 2020.


Gerry and Jeanie Tiede’s hands have never been cleaner.

The south Surrey couple returned on Tuesday from four weeks in Morocco and Portugal, and while the rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, didn’t make them reconsider their trip, they did take some extra precautions.

“We brought a lot more Wet Ones and rubbing alcohol wipes, and we would wipe things down, especially in the plane on the way back,” said Jeanie. “We washed our hands — a lot. More and longer.”

Frequent hand washing was also working for Charlotte Siller, who was flying home to Germany after 10 days visiting her sister in Squamish. Siller is a ticket agent for Lufthansa at Munich airport, and other than washing her hands more than usual and travelling with sanitizer, she is taking no other precautions.

“I’m not worried about that at the moment,” she said of the virus. “They say it’s like almost a normal flu.”

Aircraft crew wearing face masks at Vancouver International Airport. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Lily Nakamura, face mask firmly in place, was flying back to Japan after a semester of classes at the B.C. Institute of Technology. She said Tuesday was the first time she was wearing a mask on an airplane.

While the Tiedes and others said the virus was “a non-issue” on their vacation, other travellers have decided to stay home, and airlines have cancelled flights to international destinations because of the virus, of which there are 39 cases in B.C., including one death, and 93 Canada wide. There are more than 100,000 cases globally.

As a result, the international departures hall at Vancouver International Airport has been quieter than usual, and many people are wearing face masks.

From behind the counter at Lattimer Gallery YVR, manager Amy Wilson has a perfect view of the comings and goings in the terminal.

“Since January, basically, just as things started to kind of appear on the news, we just saw reduced passenger flow through the airport. A lot of that had to do with cancellation of flights through to China,” Wilson said.

The airport did not have recent figures for passenger volumes, but said in an emailed statement that flights from Mainland China to YVR decreased by 50 per cent in February, and it anticipates a similar lower number of flights for March. An official was unable to provide a specific number of flights coming from China.

Face masks at Vancouver International Airport. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

As of Tuesday there had been no decrease in the number of flights from anywhere else internationally, but that day Air Canada announced that it would be immediately suspending flights between Italy and Canada until May 1.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to the outbreak, and travel health notices have been issued for China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, northern Italy, Singapore, South Korea and Spain.

In the statement, airport CEO Craig Richmond said they are forecasting a three- to five-per-cent drop in passenger numbers for 2020, down from last year’s record of 26.4 million passengers.

The airport is also expecting a five- to 10-per-cent decline in revenue for this year thanks to less income from landing fees and less spending at the airport itself.

“However, we are confident in the airport’s ability to weather the current economic environment. We have been through similar challenges in the past, including the global economic downturn in 2008-2009 and SARS in 2002-2003, and these experiences are reflected in our responsible approach to growth,” Richmond said in the statement.

The reduction in flights and passengers is also hitting the businesses in the airport.

“Like all the retailers at the airport, we’re very dependent on the flow of traffic coming through the airport,” said Wilson. “So as we’re seeing a decrease in the number of customers coming into the airport, obviously the times we would normally be busy with our high-capacity flights are less busy than they normally would be.”

At Absolute Spa, which has five locations in the airport, stylist Bella Wegmuller said business has slowed significantly.

“Passengers are scared to travel,” she said.

Pharmasave at YVR is doing brisk business in hand sanitizer, wipes and face masks, and as of Tuesday was also sold out of zinc, which a clerk said customers believe will protect them from the virus, though that claim is unproven.

The businesses that spoke to Postmedia noted that the airport is taking cleanliness and safety seriously, and checking in regularly with them.

“They take safety of the passengers as the most important thing,” said Wegmuller.

The airport has implemented passenger screening measures as recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, such as asking questions on customs kiosks, and stepped up cleaning of handrails, washrooms and other terminal areas that are touched often.