More domestic flights returning to Okanagan with B.C. again welcoming Canadian travellers

·2 min read
The Kelowna International Airport is welcoming back domestic flights under the third phase of B.C.'s restart plan, which allows British Columbians to travel across the country for recreational purposes. (YLW - image credit)
The Kelowna International Airport is welcoming back domestic flights under the third phase of B.C.'s restart plan, which allows British Columbians to travel across the country for recreational purposes. (YLW - image credit)

The major airport serving B.C.'s Okanagan region has seen far more flights coming and going since the reopening of the province, but it's still unknown when international flights will return.

Since the province entered the third phase of its reopening plan on July 1, British Columbians have been able to travel across the country for recreational purposes. Before that, they could fly to and from Kelowna International Airport (YLW), but were advised not to unless it was essential travel.

Sam Samaddar, director of YLW, says travellers can now fly to 14 Canadian destinations from Kelowna, with Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Kitchener, Ont., Regina and Saskatoon recently added to the list.

Due to international travel restrictions, the Kelowna airport hasn't yet resumed operation of routes to Seattle, Cancun, Los Cabos, and Varadero, which accounted for up to 30 per cent of the airport's traffic before the pandemic.

In 2019, two million passengers passed through Kelowna International Airport, making it one of the busiest airports in the country.

Samaddar says he cannot predict when the airport will provide international air services again.

"We have international flights only designated to come into … the four major airports in the country, so we're not even allowed to accept international flights at this point," he said Monday to Dominika Lirette, guest host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Under the federal government's travel restrictions, international flights can only land in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Foreign non-essential air travellers are still prohibited from entering Canada, and Canadians are still discouraged from travelling overseas for non-essential purposes.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The travel restrictions between Canada and the United States preventing all non-essential trips are to remain in place until at least July 21.

But international border restrictions started to loosen on Monday. Canadians and permanent residents who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada are now able to forgo the 14-day quarantine, which has been a requirement since March of last year.

Samaddar says even if Canada reopens borders with the United States and other countries, it may take years before international business travellers return.

"Businesses are having to recover themselves and they're also trying to understand the landscape before they send their staff abroad or internationally to do business or in person," he said. "They don't want to risk their staff … putting them in an environment where they may not know what the outcome is in terms of the safety of their employees."

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