The number of passengers flying out of Bellingham airport last year dropped almost 10 per cent — likely due in part to a diving exchange rate — but now the lowly loonie may send traffic and revenues soaring at B.C. airports.
“The pricing out of Bellingham is not as good as it used to be,” said Joan Zondervan, a travel agent at Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Abbotsford.
The Canadian dollar was worth 80 cents U.S. on Friday and was last on par with the U.S. dollar two years ago.
Zondervan said it’s getting easier to “switch sell” passengers asking about U.S. flights to Canadian flights than it used to be.
“Travelling from the U.S. to the U.S. can often be cheaper,” said Neil Bhapkar, Toronto spokesman for Flight Network. “But we let our customers know there’s no point in going to Buffalo these days.”
Some Province readers were discovering the same thing.
“Flying abroad from YVR is the same as flying from Seattle,” said Monish Bhatia of Abbotsford on Twitter. “Why drive there?”
“Flying from YVR (Vancouver) to MCO (Orlando, Fla.) was cheaper than BLI (Bellingham) or SEA (Seattle) to MCO,” tweeted Theresa Bui.
But Dale Domshy of Sidney tweeted that he booked a March trip to Las Vegas from Bellingham, which included a hotel room, that was “still cheaper than just airfare on WestJet.”
In hypothetical trips booked through Expedia.ca for B.C.’s spring break, March 8 to 21, YVR beat out Bellingham fares for all six trips, to the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Last year, the number of passengers boarding at Bellingham slipped to about 540,000, a 9.6 per cent drop from 2013, said Daniel Zenk, director of aviation for the airport, where the majority of passengers, about 55 per cent, are Canadian.
The lower Canadian dollar “is one of the reasons, definitely,” he said.
Zenk also attributed the downturn to changes in the destinations served by Bellingham because of airline consolidations and mergers.
Allegiant Air dropped a non-stop Reno, Nev., route, and Frontier Airlines and its non-stop Denver flight pulled out of Bellingham altogether. Non-stop flights to Honolulu, Maui and San Diego will fly only November through April.
“For 2015, I suspect we will see another decrease in our numbers,” he said.
Meanwhile, traffic was up more than seven per cent last year at both Seattle-Tacoma and Vancouver airports.
“We do leak (passengers) to Sea-Tac and Vancouver,” said Zenk. “And to Abbotsford, but it’s not that high-capacity.”
Vancouver airport reached a record number of “enplaned and deplaned” passengers, at 19.3 million, last year, up from 17.9 million in 2013.
(U.S. airports measure only enplaned passengers, while Canadian airports include both.)
“It’s difficult to assume or correlate if there is an increase in passenger traffic due to a decrease at Bellingham airport,” said Vancouver airport spokesman Terry Chou.
Parm Sidhu, general manager at Abbotsford airport, which serves about 500,000 enplaned and deplaned passengers a year, said he expects that number to rise with the addition of a third non-stop daily WestJet flight to Edmonton in June and the return after eight years of Air Canada, with a non-stop flight to Toronto, also in June.
But he said he’s not certain a lower loonie will cause a boom.
“It’s too early to tell (if it has boosted passengers),” he said. “That’s what we would like to have happen.”
He said Abbotsford offers different choices to flyers, especially those flying within Canada.
“There are more Canadians who will check out their options as the dollar goes down,” he said.
And he said Washingtonians flying abroad may discover it’s cheaper to fly out of Abbotsford.