Top News

MARTHA MUZYCHKA: Newfoundland direct flights still dogged by turbulence

- Reuters

Come June, the province will mark the 100th anniversary of the first successful transatlantic flight made by aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown.

Not for the first time, I am struck by the irony of living in a place where we often have to travel west before we go east.

Up until the mid-1980s, travelling overseas for St. John’s residents involved going to Gander, the international airport, before heading over the pond. Then the airport in St. John’s got international status and we had a daily flight to London in the spring and summer season.

But that ended in the first decade of the millennium. Back in 2009, I wrote a column about Go, the second airline’s attempt to launch a direct flight. The first was Astraeus which flew from Deer Lake to St. John’s before landing in Gatwick. In both of those cases, Air Canada brought back its direct flight from St. John’s to Heathrow, contributing to the demise of the alternate provider.

In those closing years of the first decade, Air Canada cited the economy as the driver of their decision. However, they also mentioned the need to listen to complaints of passengers heading on to Halifax who, due to Customs and security, had to deplane and reboard in St. John’s.

When WestJet announced last winter that it was cancelling its direct St. John’s to Gatwick flight and moving passengers to a Halifax-Gatwick route, I remember saying to friends I suspected the Dublin flight would not be long in disappearing as well.

At the time, I gave it two years, but that turns out to have been optimistic. WestJet actually gave it eight months before killing the flight late last fall. In both instances, WestJet said the flights weren’t profitable.

Set aside the fact those flights were on hiatus from mid-October to early May. During the season, it was rare to get empty seats and you had to plan ahead to get the flights you wanted for your holidays.

We can’t reconcile WestJet or even Air Canada’s argument that the sales aren’t there to support the flights. Perhaps if they were more transparent about airport landing fees, or if they added more local flights to support local travellers, we might be more accommodating to a few extra hours.

But we can’t be all that surprised either.

Air travel is increasingly being funneled into regional hubs. It’s all well and good to talk about bigger flights landing in bigger places, while leaving the smaller sites to cope with smaller airplanes. The reality is that many of us end up backtracking across the country … and that’s assuming flights remain on schedule.

We can’t reconcile WestJet or even Air Canada’s argument that the sales aren’t there to support the flights. Perhaps if they were more transparent about airport landing fees, or if they added more local flights to support local travellers, we might be more accommodating to a few extra hours.

The first line of defence when there is a delay is filling up the rest of the planes rather than add an extra flight or two. In the last few years, when I have encountered weather delays, the first flight I’ve been offered is at a minimum two days later than I had planned to arrive. Or we get shunted to another hub and become someone else’s problem.

I look at itineraries on offer and cannot begin to understand why a five-hour flight to Paris or London via Halifax can turn into multiple hours of transit time. It’s only on investigating that you discover you are being sent to Toronto or even Calgary.

Remember the passengers who complained about deplaning in St. John’s before continuing on their trip westward? Their wait was less than two hours. And it was less for those coming eastward for the St. John’s-Dublin flight.

It might cost you half as much in airfare but it is more than five times the expected travel time. I’m not sure how such planning is economically efficient or environmentally sustainable. Why would I want to choose an airline that thinks it’s OK to price the shorter itineraries beyond most pocketbooks?

Alcock and Brown crash-landed when they reached Clifden, on Ireland’s western coast. Not the best landing, maybe, but three cheers for proving that a direct flight from St. John’s can be achieved.

Meanwhile, my future travels beyond Canada may be limited to flights of fancy taken from my comfy couch as I read of others’ exploits.

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant. Email socialnotes@gmail.com


RELATED

Recent Stories