The United Airlines flight to and from Newark Liberty International was an important flight for St. John’s International Airport, being its only direct, daily service in and out of the United States.
Marie Manning, director of business development with the St. John’s airport authority, said the service was largely used by three traveller groups: oil and gas business, linking up with flights to and from Houston; New York-destined travellers for business and pleasure; and snowbirds, ultimately heading for Florida.
The latter group will actually see a greater availability of seats this winter, Manning said, with capacity set to increase by about 400 per cent.
“That’s because of WestJet adding service and National Airlines, which is a new airline, adding service as well directly into Orlando,” she said.
Orlando, Fla., is the top destination for travellers from this province. Tampa, Fla. is the No. 2 spot.
The new services are not daily runs, but enough carriers will make the trip to boost capacity overall, in and out of St. John’s.
WestJet currently operates a direct flight to Orlando once a week and will start at two per week later this month; Air Transit, as part of its seasonal service, will offer a flight once a week; and National Airlines begins two direct flights a week, beginning the third week of January.
National Airlines (headquartered in Orlando) is a new addition and will operate year-round.
The added services to Florida will begin shortly before the final United Airlines runs to and from Newark, on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
The United Airlines service in St. John’s was started in 2004. Manning said she believes many factors played a role in the service cancellation. As two likely factors, she pointed to the oil industry downturn, with fewer people travelling on the corporate dime and, also, an American company paying its expenses in American dollars while charging customers in Canadian, taking a hit on the currency differential.
Whatever the reason, the end of the United Airlines service remains a disappointment.
“We work with them all the time, but this came as a bit of a surprise for us,” Manning said. “Our last conversation with them was that things were going well.”
While it would have been good to negotiate with the carrier, she said, the focus for the airport authority now is finding a replacement for the service.