American airports and airlines near the northern border are benefitting from a surge in Canadian passengers in search of low-cost fares.
The strong Canadian dollar and higher flight taxes at home have Canadians driving two-and-a-half hours to the United States to catch a flight to their U.S. destination. According to a Wall Street Journal report, taxes and fees on a flight from a Canadian airport to a U.S. city can be $100 more each way than on flights between two U.S. airports. Federal subsidies of rural airports help keep ticket prices down in the United States, but Canadian airports rely on fees for capital projects.
Nearly 5 million Canadians departed from or arrived at U.S. airports near the border last year, a 15 percent increase since the data was first tracked in 2010.
The trend has not been missed by officials at Plattsburgh International Airport, where Canadians make up 75 percent of the departing passengers. Seeking to take advantage of the new customer base, the Plattsburgh airport has a website that is bilingual, as are signs at the former Air Force base. Employees are offered French classes to better serve French-speaking residents from Quebec. The airport has been open just five years, but passenger traffic has tripled and officials are planning to double the size of the terminal.
We knew it was going to be successful, but we had no idea it was going to grow this quickly, said Michelle Powers, who is with the chamber of commerce.
Discount carriers such as Allegiant Travel Co. and Spirit Airlines Co. are also marketing cheap fares to Canadians at home. Illustrative of their success was an anecdote told of Spirits inaugural Plattsburgh flight. When the gate agent announced it was time to begin boarding, no one budged. When it was repeated in French, everyone lined up, the story goes.
Also reaping the benefits of Canadian traffic are Niagara Falls International Airport, where 85 percent of its passengers are Canadian, and Bellingham (Wash.) International Airport, where Canadians make up 62 percent of the passengers.
Noticeably absent from the Journal article was any mention of Watertown International Airport. So, with its proximity to the border and population centers of Ontario province, what is being done to capitalize on Canadians seeking to save hundreds of dollars on flights? It seems like an extension of the existing relationship. After all, Canadians frequent our businesses. Why not the airport?