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Leading indicator of international arrivals to Canada by air, third quarter 2020

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Released: 2020-10-13


International air arrivals in Canada remained low throughout the third quarter due to ongoing travel restrictions as well as reduced demand for international flights.

In the third quarter, visitors from abroad arriving in Canada by air more than doubled compared with the second quarter.

Similarly, the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad by air was two and a half times that in the second quarter.

Despite this growth from the second quarter, it was a rather subdued summer travel season with both the number of visitors from abroad and returning Canadians by air remaining well below normal levels, which average about nine million air arrivals during the period.

September marks the sixth full month of border restrictions

Travel restrictions introduced in March were in effect for the sixth full month in September. On March 21, the Canadian and the US governments closed the border to non-essential travel and this restriction has been extended five times since. As of September 15, this restriction was extended to October 21.

On September 28, 2020, the federal government extended the closure of its international border to foreign nationals for the fifth time until at least October 31, 2020, and international flights to Canada have been redirected to four airports since March 18: Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International, Vancouver International, Montréal/Pierre Elliott Trudeau International and Calgary International.

Although restrictions on non-essential travel have remained over the course of the pandemic, certain categories have been relaxed. For instance, as of June 8, 2020, and under certain conditions, immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents can enter the country.

In addition, starting in July, major Canadian airlines resumed transborder and international flights that had been reduced or cancelled, although at much less volume than the pre-pandemic period.

Arrivals from overseas countries increase

Arrivals of overseas residents by air at Canadian airports equipped with Primary Inspection Kiosks in the third quarter (July to September) more than doubled, reaching 51,252 from 22,839 in the second quarter (April to June).

In August, which was the fifth full month of travel restrictions, the average daily travel volume reached 651, up from 519 air arrivals in July. In fact, air arrivals by overseas residents peaked on August 26 when 885 arrivals were recorded.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Air travellers from overseas arriving in Canada, second and third quarters 2020
Air travellers from overseas arriving in Canada, second and third quarters 2020

The number of air arrivals from the United States on the rise

US air arrivals in Canada started to increase in May with the easing of some travel restrictions, but still remained below their normal volume through the end of the third quarter.

Air arrivals by US residents to Canada more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020, rising to 19,914 from 8,414 in the second quarter.

Similarly, the average daily travel volume increased from 197 air arrivals in July to 236 in August, and declined to 217 in September 2020.

Infographic 2  Thumbnail for Infographic 2: Air travellers from the United States arriving in Canada, second and third quarters 2020
Air travellers from the United States arriving in Canada, second and third quarters 2020

More Canadian residents return from trips abroad

The number of Canadian residents returning from trips abroad by air began to increase in May after two months of decline, but was still a small fraction of its usual volume through the end of September.

During the third quarter, the number of Canadian residents returning by air increased by more than twofold from the second quarter, from 80,725 to 200,701.

The average daily travel volume rose from 1,662 in July to 2,645 in August. Indeed, August had the highest number of Canadians returning from abroad by air since travel restrictions were introduced in March of this year, with 82,000 arrivals recorded, up from 51,534 in July.

Infographic 3  Thumbnail for Infographic 3: Canadian residents returning by air from abroad, second and third quarters 2020
Canadian residents returning by air from abroad, second and third quarters 2020

  Note to readers

Statistics Canada's Frontier Counts program uses data from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). One source on travellers entering the country by air is the Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) system, which, at most major airports, has replaced the paper E311 Declaration Cards that were completed by travellers and submitted to CBSA officers upon arrival in Canada.

Note that the data used in this analysis exclude Toronto Terminal 1, where PIK has not been fully deployed.

The indicator also excludes air travellers who enter Canada using a NEXUS card, as they are not required to complete PIK or E311, and travellers arriving by private aircraft.

The following variables are available from PIK: date, work location, arriving by, arriving from, duration of trip, country of residence, crew indicator, trip purpose by trip duration, traveller citizenship, document type, province or state of residence, trip purpose.

Contact information

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