Nfld. & Labrador

PAL Airlines steps in to fill flight gap in N.L. after Air Canada's departure

The regional carrier is adding 12 new routes, expanding service in spite of the disruption to the aviation industry across Canada caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrier adding 12 new routes, promising fares as low as $69

Newfoundland and Labrador carrier PAL Airlines will fly as far as Ottawa starting this summer. (Submitted by PAL Airlines)

A Newfoundland and Labrador regional airline is stepping up to fill the void left by Air Canada's departure from the majority of its routes in the province.

PAL Airlines, which flies small aircraft out of airports across the province, is on the brink of the largest expansion in the company's history, adding 12 new routes to its schedule. The airline will unveil service to Halifax, Fredericton, Saint John, Charlottetown, Ottawa and several Quebec destinations.

They'll be rolling out the new routes over the course of the summer as pandemic restrictions lift, says Janine Browne, the airline's sales director.

Those routes had previously been served by Air Canada, which slashed flights to smaller communities across the country over the last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson told CBC News in January the airline's overall capacity was down 80 per cent from the previous year at the time.

While the pandemic has been "devastating" for the industry, Browne said, PAL has managed to "weather the storm."

"We were able … to continue serving all of our regions," Browne said. "This is an essential service for many of the communities and towns and cities that we serve."

While Air Canada announced Tuesday it will be re-establishing some routes in the province, PAL's expansion breathes life into airports still grappling with the pandemic.

"Air access is absolutely essential to economic recovery," she said.

The expansion also offers customers an easier travel experience, Browne suggests, with more connecting destinations and partnerships with both WestJet and Air Canada — allowing passengers to buy one ticket and check their luggage only once during their trip.

Ottawa eyeing steep fares

But even as provinces set their reopening plans in motion for this summer, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians face significantly fewer travel options, with remaining flights to major domestic destinations costing more than usual.

The price hike prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to tell local business owners earlier this month that Ottawa believed fares would fall as demand rises.

"We're watching very closely on connections, we're watching very closely on reopening, we're watching the prices, we're watching tourism," Trudeau told the St. John's Board of Trade.

"We're watching all these different factors to make sure that if there are gaps or challenges that are going to slow our recovery that we address them."

Browne said she expects passengers to see significantly lower fares as the new routes launch, with some tickets setting passengers back as little as $69.

There's a catch, though. Despite the partnership with Air Canada, anyone booking a PAL flight can't avail of Aeroplan points.

That may change in the coming months, however.

"Who knows what the future holds?" Browne said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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