Half of Lower Mainland air travellers fly out of U.S., poll finds

Trend growing to drive across border to catch cheaper flights affects the Abbotsford Airport

  • Mar. 28, 2013 5:00 p.m.
The Abbotsford International Airport loses about 100

The Abbotsford International Airport loses about 100

A new poll shows half of Lower Mainland air travellers recently drove to the U.S. to catch a cheaper flight instead of using a B.C. airport.

The Insights West online survey found 51 per cent of respondents who flew anywhere in the last two years did so at least once by driving across the border to airports such as Bellingham or Seattle.

“It was more than I expected,” said Insights West senior vice-president Catherine Dawson.

Mike Pastro, general manager of the Abbotsford International Airport, said the number from the Insights West survey seems high, though border-crossers are a concern for the airport. Pastro said he has heard other statistics about border-crossing for flyers, such as 20 per cent of Lower Mainlanders drive to the U.S. for flights, and that 50 per cent of passengers flying from the Bellingham, Wash. airport are Canadians. He said this is a concern for all Canadian airports located near an airport across the U.S. border.

“It does have an impact… up to as many as 100,000, possibly more, passengers per year are flying from Bellingham and Seattle, who would have otherwise flown from Abbotsford.”

Jay Teichroeb, the city’s general manger of economic development, said an economic impact study found that the airport generates about $610 million for the city annually, both directly and indirectly. Though the city has not examined the economic loss caused by travellers flying out of the U.S., Teichroeb said losing 90,000 to 100,000 passengers to the Bellingham airport does have an impact.

“It’s a big issue.. it’s certainly an issue of significant importance to the city of Abbotsford, not just to the airport business, but our retail sector is impacted too.”

Dawson said the trend seems to be growing, with 23 per cent saying they cross the line more often to fly now than they did three years ago, compared to six per cent who said they do it less often.

Lower prices offered out of U.S. airports were the overwhelming reason, listed as an important factor by 97 per cent of those polled, far ahead of considerations like airline preference, ease of border crossing, or whether they have friends or family across the line where they can stay or park their car.

Pastro agreed that the core of the problem is high Canadian airfares. He said in Canada the base airline fare starts higher, due to the U.S. having more competition and possibly paying lower wages. On top of that, Pastro said, Canada has more fees and charges, such as air traveller’s security charge and fees to NAV CANADA for the air traffic management services.

“It’s not really a level playing field, because in the United States the airlines don’t have to pay a lot of the fees and charges that they have to pay in Canada.”

Pastro said that in Canada, flyers pay an airport improvement fee which helps pay for upgrades to infrastructure, saying its a “user-pay approach.” He said that in the U.S., these improvements are subsidized by the government.

Dawson said the 49 per cent who stuck to Canadian airports would include some who didn’t have a choice because they were flying to smaller B.C. towns not served by U.S. airports.

Had those been factored out, she said, it might well be that a clear majority of Lower Mainland flyers with an option to fly via a U.S. airport are making that choice.

The poll found most Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley flyers using U.S. airports were heading to U.S. destinations, while 19 per cent were bound for other international cities.

The Abbotsford Airport does not offer flights into the U.S., which Pastro said is largely due to the cheaper flights that are already available in the U.S. Though the airport hopes to be able to offer those flights in the future, a low-cost carrier is needed.

One finding Dawson called “very surprising” is that seven per cent were crossing the line to take short flights of less than three hours to Canadian destinations and six per cent were taking longer flights back into Canada.

Dawson said the cost of flights is the “prime motivator” and air travellers polled were quick to blame both the airlines and the federal government but not themselves for using U.S. carriers.

Fully 97 per cent agreed (72 per cent strongly) that Canadian airlines need to improve their pricing if they want to prevent Canadians from driving to U.S. airports. They also cited higher taxes and fees adding to Canadian ticket prices.

Dawson doubted whether that majority view is logical.

“Is the Canadian air industry ever going to be competitive in the way U.S. airlines are? I’m not sure they can. It sort of calls into question whether Canadians are being realistic or not.”

Pastro said the Abbotsford Airport tries to overcome the price issue by controlling what they can – keeping their airport fees and charges as low as possible. He said Abbotsford has among the lowest fees in Canada, some of the cheapest parking fares, and it is an easy-to-use, low-hassle airport.

“What we do in order to be competitive and to combat the cost issue is to be the lowest-priced airport that we can be.”

Insights West surveyed 450 Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley residents, and focused on the 77 per cent of local residents who took a flight of any kind in the last two years. For more details see www.insightswest.com.

The findings come on the heels of a February poll on cross-border shopping trends that found a large majority of the Lower Mainland’s residents regularly shop in the U.S.

Just Posted

Chilliwack Fire Department on scene at a house fire on Boundary Road and No. 4 Road on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (David Seltenrich/ Facebook)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

AHL president and CEO Scott Howson believes the new Abbotsford franchise is off to a strong early start. (AHL photo)
AHL president: ‘Tremendous success’ selling season ticket deposits for Abbotsford franchise

President and CEO Scott Howson optimistic about new Vancouver Canucks affiliate in Abbotsford

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read