Passenger and cargo flights increase significantly at Kelowna International Airport as major highways remain closed

More flights to coast added

Cindy White

UPDATE 11:55 p.m.

Canada's airlines continue to add service between Kelowna and the Lower Mainland.

"We have been able to secure flying between Kelowna and Abbotsford with Swoop starting Tuesday 23 November, 6 days a week," said Kelowna airport director Sam Samaddar says.

The move was announced in the past 12 hours. A quick scan of Swoop's website shows flight prices ranging between $79 to $99 one-way up until December 15, 2021.

"The airport has offered a substantial discount on landing and terminal fees to secure this flight, and we are continuing to work with our airline partners on adding more capacity between Kelowna and Vancouver," Samaddar says.

ORIGINAL 4:00 a.m.

It’s a busy time at Kelowna International Airport, as people who were stranded by highway closures between the Interior and Lower Mainland have had to fly home to the Okanagan or fly out of Kelowna to get home.

Most airlines have added capacity by switching to larger aircraft and that’s expected to continue for a couple of weeks at least.

“The indications that we have from both WestJet and Air Canada right now is it’s going to run until December 12, and they’ll continue to reassess that on a week-to-week basis,” said Phillip Elchitz, Senior Manager Airport Operations.

Cargo flights have also increased tenfold.

Elchitz says products that don’t usually come in by air are being flown to Kelowna, including things like blood, heavy tools and even insects for pet stores to feed their animals.

Cargo companies have switched to larger aircraft with more capacity and courier services FedEx and Purolator are adding extra flights.

The airport and tourism organizations in the valley are lobbying the airlines to continue with the added capacity so visitors can come here in larger numbers through the winter.

“We really appreciate their efforts to be able to add more aircraft,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, CEO of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.

“Also very much appreciate the fact, and this is obviously not for tourism, but for residents, the border services opened yesterday and people could come home through the United States (it is a 12-hour drive) without their passports and without vaccination and without quarantine. They could show proof of where they lived and the border services were amazing. I talked to several people today who used that opportunity yesterday,” said Walker-Matthews.

Officially, U.S. Customs and Border Services says people still need a passport or Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative document to cross the border and must comply with vaccination rules. Canada Border Services said it’s working closely with partners to facilitate passage during these exceptional times, but didn’t go into detail about what that means.

Even with the increase in passenger and cargo flights, Elchitz says Kelowna International airport has more than enough capacity, and traffic is still below pre-pandemic levels.

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