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Air Canada relaunches Vancouver-Miami flights after 18-year hiatus

Province's only other non-stop flights to Florida are WestJet's to Orlando
Vancouver has not had a non-stop air route to Miami since 2004, when Air Canada stopped those flights | Getty Images / Sylvain Sonnet

Vancouver tomorrow will get its second non-stop air route to Florida thanks to Air Canada launching thrice-weekly flights to the Sunshine State's largest metropolitan area.

These are the first non-stop commercial flights between Vancouver and Miami since Air Canada stopped flying the route about 18 years ago. The only other non-stop flight from B.C. to Florida is WestJet's once weekly route to Orlando. 

Other airlines that have flown non-stop flights between B.C. and Florida in the past decade – National Airlines and Air Transat – have not restarted their routes.

"We're not only carrying passengers from Vancouver to Miami and vice versa," Air Canada managing director of sales planning and effectiveness Timothy Liu told BIV earlier today.  

"This flight also fits nicely to our overall Vancouver-Pacific hub strategy as it connects passengers from our Asia-Pacific flights into Miami." 

Miami residents wanting to go to Asia will be able to transfer in Vancouver to board Air Canada flights to Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Air Canada has yet to resume its Vancouver-Melbourne, Australia flights, but its connections to Oceana include non-stop flights from Vancouver to Sydney and Brisbane in Australia, as well as Auckland, New Zealand. 

Air Canada's new Vancouver-Miami flights are set to be on 169-seat B737 Max 8 planes, which have 16 business-class seats. Liu expects that the front of the plane will largely be filled with wealthier leisure travellers. 

"There will always be some business travelers, but since the pandemic, and onset of COVID-19, we find that there is a huge surge in demand for leisure-premium traffic," he said. "That is people who are willing and interested in paying a little bit more for a nicer experience."

Business travel is essential for many air routes to be a success and there is likely little business travel between Vancouver and Miami but leisure travel may be sufficient to make the route a success, said John Korenic, an adjunct professor of aviation at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

Korenic told BIV that the pricier seats on the Vancouver-Miami route could be in demand by wealthier leisure travellers planning to not only visit Miami but also go on Caribbean cruises, as Miami is one of the world's biggest cruising hubs.

Back in the 1990s, Canadian Airlines flew non-stop to Miami and that airline had a partnership with American Airlines that allowed seamless connections to Peru and Chile – something desired by business people in Vancouver's mining sector, Korenic said.

Some executives may still want to transit through Miami on trips to Latin America, he added.

Liu, however, said Air Canada's rationale to launch the flight was not to use Miami as a hub but rather to add traffic to Vancouver International Airport.

Air Canada's new route has flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and Korenic said this provides leisure travellers the flexibility to leave at the start of a weekend and then return after several-day trips, week-long trips or week-and-a-half trips.

"The route has very attractive times of day too," he said.

Travellers leave Vancouver at 8:20 a.m. and arrive in Miami at 5:06 p.m. The return trips leave Miami at 6 p.m. and arrive in Vancouver at 9:45 p.m.

Liu said Air Canada likes to have routes operate on a daily basis whenever possible but that starting with three times per week is a good way to gauge demand. 

Canada's two major airlines appear to have divvied up major Florida destinations, as WestJet on Nov. 12 relaunched Vancouver's only other non-stop air route to Florida – a once-per-week roundtrip on Saturdays to Orlando, which also has attractive departure and arrival times, according to Korenic.

WestJet's Orlando flights leave Vancouver at 9:50 a.m. and arrive in Orlando at 6:33 p.m. The flights then leave Orlando at 7:30 p.m. and arrive in Vancouver at 10:54 p.m.

WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger told BIV that the Vancouver-Orlando route has been a success.

"Demand has surpassed pre-pandemic levels and future bookings continue to follow this trend," she said.

She would not speculate on whether WestJet would increase the route's frequency to the pre-pandemic level of twice per week, saying that the airline is "always evaluating future opportunities."

WestJet first launched its Vancouver-Orlando route in January 2016, with two flights per week.

In the later 2010s, non-stop flights between Vancouver and Orlando were in high enough demand for three airlines to compete on the route.

The same month that WestJet launched its non-stop flights to Orlando International Airport, Orlando-based National Airlines launched two non-stop flights per week between Vancouver and Orlando's secondary airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Air Canada Rouge then followed in December 2017, competing with WestJet with flights directly to Orlando International Airport. The airline always intended those flights to be seasonal, and they stopped in April 2018.

Liu said that Air Canada could fly non-stop Vancouver-Orlando in the future.

"We're always looking at opportunities in terms of where we can most optimally use our aircraft," he said.

"Assets have to be used. With COVID-19, we had to retire some aircraft.  As we take delivery of additional aircraft, that's where these opportunities will start coming up again."

Factors Air Canada considers when launching new routes are demand in both directions, connection opportunities, availability of aircraft, profitability compared with other potential routes, fuel costs and other economic factors, he said.

Pre-pandemic there was one other airline cashing in on B.C.-Florida non-stop flights.

Months before the pandemic took hold in March 2020, Air Transat launched non-stop flights between Vancouver and Fort Lauderdale, which is about a half hour's drive north of Miami.

Air Transat spokesperson Bernard Côte told BIV that his airline is not considering restarting that route because "our operations are focused on Eastern Canada."

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