An Air Canada check-in area is shown at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Air Canada says it is bolstering its summer schedule, which nonetheless remains more than 50 per cent smaller than last year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pound the airline industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

44% fewer passengers flew on Canadian airlines in March 2020 than in 2019

COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard as travel remains low

Major Canadian airlines saw a 44 per cent drop in the number of passengers they carried in March 2020, compared to the same month the year prior.

According to figures released by Statistics Canada Monday, 4.3 million people flew in March – the “largest decline ever recorded in the monthly civil aviation statistics.” In March 2019, 7.7 million people flew on Canadian airlines.

Many Canadian airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet, have scaled back their operations by up to 90 per cent. Those airlines, and some others, have switched to cargo flights for essential supplies and repatriation flights to get Canadians stuck abroad back home.

The airline industry has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada closed its borders to most countries on March 16, and then halted all non-essential travel to and from the U.S. on March 21.

Outside of the summer months, passenger counts typically sit between six and seven million people for all months except November 2017, which saw 5.8 million people fly on Canadian airlines. In March, passenger counts typically top eight million although that is unlikely to happen in 2020 with some international travel restrictions likely to remain in effect. Restriction on U.S. travel will be considered on a month-to-month basis, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Currently, the ban on non-essential travel is in place until June 21.

READ MORE: Canada–U.S. border to stay closed to non-essential travel until June 21: Trudeau

In a news release, Air Canada said it would be offering 97 destinations this summer, down from its usual 220. The airline said it would resume service to the U.S. by Monday, including New York-LaGuardia, Washington-Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. However, the list of U.S. destinations remain down from 53 offered during the summer of 2019.

Internationally, the airline said it will offer flights to places like London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul from Vancouver, and to other European cities from Toronto and Montreal.

READ MORE: Air Canada revises refund policy amid growing anger over cancelled flights


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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