British Columbia

Pack your patience, experts say, as spring break sees surge in air travel

Busy airports are to be expected during spring break, experts say, as British Columbians begin to embrace air travel again in a huge way after shying away from flying due to COVID-19.

Vancouver International Airport expecting to record highest passenger numbers since before pandemic

The Vancouver Airport Authority is advising travellers to arrive early at the terminal during spring break. (Eric Foss/CBC)

Busy airports are to be expected during spring break, experts say, as British Columbians begin to embrace air travel again in a huge way after shying away from flying due to COVID-19.

It's the first time since 2019 the annual school holiday will happen without recommendations against non-essential travel in effect, and it comes shortly after Canada lifted the requirement for returning travellers to provide a negative result on a PCR test.

That means Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is expecting to see its highest passenger numbers since the pandemic began, and staff there are recommending travellers arrive early.

According to the Vancouver Airport Authority, passenger numbers are currently at about 37,000 per day compared to 25,000 in February. Last March break, there were only about 6,500 passengers passing through a day.

"We're seeing exciting milestones at YVR, such as days with the most international departures in two years," said an airport spokesperson in a prepared statement.

The spokesperson said that because the airport is federally regulated, masks and proof of vaccination are required in the terminal and on board aircraft.

McKenzie McMillan, a Vancouver-based travel consultant with the Travel Group, says his phone has been ringing off the hook.

"It was an absolute huge wave of new bookings that came in," said McMillan on Monday. "Probably about 30 to 40 per cent higher than they were in 2019 for spring break.

He said popular destinations include warm U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, as well as Mexico and Hawaii.

Wary wanderlust

Statistics from the Vancouver Airport Authority show international flights are ticking up, with 637 international flights departing this month compared to 171 last March.

"I think a lot of people are wanting to take that trip and leave the country, but maybe not quite ready to go on that trip to Australia or Europe," said McMillan about the booking trends he is seeing right now.

McMillan said travellers now also tend to be much more wary about the fine print on flight and vacation cancellation policies. He says he has spoken to quite a few travellers who are seeking out his services for the first time for this reason.

"A lot of new clients are coming in that maybe would have booked something online previously, but are now understanding that there are new risks involved in our new post-pandemic world of travel and decided to go with the travel agent this time to help guide them through the different rules and regulations," said McMillan.

After a "demoralizing two years," McMillan says he's welcoming the sound of his phone ringing.

He says about 30 per cent of travel agencies in the city did not survive the pandemic's effect on the industry.

'We're feeling safe here'

Travellers were already making their way to the provincial capital, Victoria, on Monday as spring break began. Representatives from the local travel industry said they were bracing for a surge in demand.

Nik Coutinho, part of the marketing team at local whale-watching company Prince of Whales, said they had already surpassed the number of bookings they got in 2019 and that a labour shortage was making it tough to keep up with the anticipated surge.

Sandra Olivaira, centre, is seen with her husband and son in front of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on March 14, 2022. The family is visiting from Toronto over the spring break. (Rohit Joseph/CBC)

Sandra Olivaira, who is visiting from Toronto with her family, said she felt safe in the city, adding it had a a high rate of vaccination and many businesses required hand sanitizing.

"I think it's one of the most beautiful cities that we have visited in Canada," she said. "I think we are really safe. We're feeling safe here."

With files from Jessica Cheung, Trevor Dunn, and Rohit Joseph

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