Within weeks, travellers will also be able to book pre-flight COVID-19 tests at airport, acting CEO says
Marie Sutherland · CBC News · Posted: October 5, 2021
Flight service is steadily ramping up at Saint John Airport since its reopening three months ago, with Porter Airlines set to return this week and Flair Airlines planning to expand its flight roster.
The airport, which saw all commercial flights cancelled in December amid pandemic travel restrictions, welcomed their return on June 29 with an Air Canada flight from Montreal.
Since then, acting CEO Greg Hierlihy said Monday, business has been brisk — driven almost entirely by leisure travel and the pent-up demand from individuals separated from loved ones — and is poised to get brisker.
On Wednesday, Porter Airlines flights return to Saint John, with afternoon service to Ottawa and on to Toronto.
“They are all set to go … six days a week to Ottawa and then on to [Toronto’s] Billy Bishop airport on Toronto Island,” Hierlihy said. Flights leave at 3:25 p.m. every day, with the exception of Saturdays.
And Flair Airlines, an ultra-low-cost carrier that chose Saint John as its only New Brunswick destination, is planning to expand its current two-day-a-week service to Toronto to three days a week in March of next year.
Those plans have been propelled by strong uptake on their flights, which now run Wednesday and Saturday. That’s changing to Tuesday and Saturday in November, and then to Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday next year, Hierlihy said.
“The uptake has been very good on that flight,” he said.
“We had several times during the month of August where it was sold out or virtually sold out. And we’re talking about, you know, a 189-seat jet.”
Even after Labour Day, when kids go back to school and family travel cools a bit, uptake has remained relatively strong.
“There’s been a bit of a decrease, but it still remained quite steady,” he said. “They’re really good numbers. So we’re we’re quite enthusiastic … about the possibilities there.”
Overall, he said, it’s an encouraging rebound after six punishing months.
If you’d asked me a few months ago, would I be happy with those numbers, I would have said yes, absolutely. It’s the start of the recovery.- Greg Hierlihy, Saint John Airport acting CEO
As of August, business at the airport is “at about 35 per cent of where we were” in August 2019, and indications so far are that that will increase to 50 per cent by the end of the year, Hierlihy said.
“If you’d asked me a few months ago, would I be happy with those numbers, I would have said yes, absolutely. It’s the start of the recovery.”
The return of business travel, which won’t likely happen until sometime in 2022, will provide another vital boost.
“We know that business travel is still very low at this point in time, so we’re waiting for that to bounce back,” Hierlihy said.
“That’s when you’ll really see our numbers come up.”
COVID-19 travel tests will be available at YSJ
As travel increases, so will the demand for COVID-19 tests for passengers required to show proof of a negative test upon arrival at their destination.
Within the coming weeks, Hierlihy said, that service will be available at the Saint John Airport.
The airport has signed a lease contract with Distribution Ad Valorem, which currently offers the fee-for-service tests at the Moncton and Fredericton airports.
The company offers three testing options, including rapid antigen tests and the standard PCR tests, at a cost of between $149 and $299, depending on the type of test. The cost includes the provision of a certificate confirming date and time of testing, test result and passport number.
Hierlihy said the airport has taken several calls from travellers wondering where they can take the COVID-19 tests needed to comply with travel requirements.
“It’s hard to find that service in Saint John,” he said. “So we worked quickly to see if we could accommodate that in the airport.”
Hierlihy stressed that the tests are only for asymptomatic travellers, and must be prebooked online via the website of the airport offering the service.