Nfld. & Labrador

Irish scholar campaigning to revive WestJet's St. John's-to-Dublin flight

An Irish academic has penned an open letter to the airline after it announced the end of the direct flight between the two cities.

Kieran Cronin says airline's explanation 'doesn't add up'

WestJet says a direct route between St. John's and Dublin was underperforming, but an Irish academic isn't buying it. (Pat Fogg/CBC)

An Irish scholar who studies Newfoundland and Labrador hopes to pressure WestJet into rethinking its recent move to axe its direct flights between St. John's and Dublin.

The news on Nov. 22 that the airline was ending its seasonal service came as "complete disbelief and disappointment" to Kieran Cronin, a librarian at the Waterford Institute of Technology's Centre for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies.

WestJet said the route was underperforming, an explanation Cronin said "didn't add up."

"I've taken WestJet flights four times this year, and it was just my experience that the route was very popular," he said, adding he was even a passenger on the route's last day of service, Oct. 26, on what appeared to be a full flight. 

When Cronin applied some academic scrutiny to WestJet's explanation, he found it wanting.

By compiling passenger numbers publicly available from Ireland's Central Statistics Office, Cronin said the amount of people flying into St. John's from Dublin has grown from 14,433 in 2014, to 22,045 in 2017. He also said there were slight gains in the reverse direction between 2016 and 2017.

"The figures, to me, are showing an annual modest, yet positive increase in the number of passengers, particularly from Ireland to Newfoundland," Cronin told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

Signal Hill was lit up in green in 2014 to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. (Parks Canada)

'A call to action'

Cronin felt compelled to pen an open letter to WestJet, as a "call to action," he said, but aimed wider than just the airline by also appealing to the two countries' ambassadors.

"This route … has a lot more significance than being just another discontinued route," he said, citing the lengthy immigration history between the southeast of Ireland and Newfoundland.

Immigration and trade between the two places stretches back to approximately 1670.

"[Newfoundland] is the southeast of Ireland, parted from the sea," Cronin said.

In addition to the open letter, Cronin is also active in a Facebook group dedicated to the same cause, and has been gathering as much public opinion on the matter as possible.

"The people I've been speaking to, they're very aware and conscious of their connections with Ireland, and this route offered them a way of linking back to Ireland," he said.

Cronin hopes to give people affected by WestJet's decision a voice, and detail "what gets lost when a route gets changed."

Ireland — Newfoundland and Labrador boards agree

The boards of two groups that aim to foster and celebrate connections between Ireland and Newfoundland — Ireland Newfoundland Connections, in Ireland, and Newfoundland and Labrador Irish Connections, in Newfoundland — are also upset about the change.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the groups called on Westjet to reconsider.

The statement said that in particular, the annual Ireland Newfoundland gathering in Ireland drew many customers ot the direct flights.

"The potential is there ... to build on this success and to generate many more passengers for the air route," it read.

"Nor ... should the potential to develop trade-led freight traffic between the two Atlantic islands be underestimated, having regard to the extent to which Newfoundland depends on imported food."

As of 2019, WestJet will offer service to Dublin via Halifax, and has notified any passengers who had booked through St. John's of the change.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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