Logo StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada Study: Leading indicator of international arrivals by air, April 2020

by Walter Omariba and Larry McKeown

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International travel was among the first areas of the economy to experience the impact of COVID-19 as governments across the world closed their borders to contain the spread of the virus. The number of international arrivals to Canada by air, which started a steep decline in the second half of March 2020 due to restrictions on international travel, almost completely halted in April. This study examines international arrivals to Canada using Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) data (see Methodology).

Border restrictions imposed to halt spread of virus

On March 16, 2020, the federal government closed its international border to foreign nationals, with certain exceptions that included American citizens, to contain the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, the Prime Minister advised all Canadians travelling outside of the country to return home.

As of March 18, international flights to Canada were redirected to just four airports: Toronto/Pearson, Vancouver International, Montreal/Trudeau and Calgary International. A 30-day restriction on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border took effect on March 21 and was extended for another 30 days on April 18.

In response, major Canadian airlines initially suspended many transborder and international flights to focus on repatriation and then began reducing all services or ceasing operations entirely.

Arrivals from overseas countries comes to a near standstill

At the major Canadian airports equipped with PIK, the number of overseas residents arriving during the month of April fell 97.7%, from 257,000 in 2019 to 6,000 arrivals in 2020.

Chart 1 Air travellers from overseas countries arriving in Canada, March and April 2019 and 2020

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Date (appearing as row headers), 2019 and 2020, calculated using people units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Date 2019 2020
people
March
1 8,565 6,089
2 8,403 5,517
3 7,113 4,893
4 6,253 5,297
5 5,962 5,445
6 5,937 5,526
7 5,772 5,250
8 7,165 3,957
9 6,086 4,264
10 5,898 4,479
11 5,514 4,760
12 5,675 4,768
13 6,294 5,084
14 6,135 4,537
15 7,498 2,805
16 6,365 2,744
17 5,581 2,335
18 5,860 1,107
19 5,577 789
20 6,667 697
21 6,074 784
22 7,187 616
23 6,962 469
24 6,547 284
25 5,882 356
26 5,431 309
27 6,298 261
28 5,940 181
29 6,584 208
30 6,081 128
31 5,645 126
April
1 5,508 47
2 6,171 85
3 7,182 171
4 7,475 54
5 8,173 80
6 8,448 51
7 7,604 82
8 7,099 89
9 7,475 98
10 8,004 66
11 8,282 361
12 10,460 38
13 11,133 161
14 9,006 207
15 8,331 599
16 9,051 425
17 10,291 476
18 9,817 327
19 10,183 167
20 9,127 164
21 7,980 199
22 6,533 310
23 7,939 357
24 8,939 436
25 8,915 242
26 11,429 62
27 10,723 186
28 9,064 74
29 7,868 160
30 8,776 215

Air arrivals from the United States virtually cease

The number of US residents entering Canada by air started a steep decline even before the March 16th announcement and was almost at a standstill through to the end of April. In April 2020, the number of US residents entering Canada by air was down 99.5% compared with 2019.

Chart 2 Air travellers from the United States arriving in Canada, March and April 2019 and 2020

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Date (appearing as row headers), 2019 and 2020, calculated using people units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Date 2019 2020
people
March
1 6,987 4,748
2 5,394 6,382
3 5,434 5,045
4 6,770 5,477
5 5,713 6,094
6 6,099 6,319
7 7,007 4,694
8 7,677 4,029
9 5,707 5,218
10 5,620 3,637
11 7,292 3,881
12 5,985 4,793
13 5,916 4,390
14 6,707 3,581
15 8,337 1,994
16 6,821 1,546
17 6,383 1,076
18 7,895 753
19 6,534 440
20 7,043 432
21 8,257 345
22 8,715 246
23 7,924 159
24 6,833 138
25 8,081 103
26 6,638 108
27 7,252 90
28 7,671 50
29 7,297 88
30 5,201 68
31 5,016 63
April
1 6,154 68
2 6,485 39
3 6,817 64
4 9,203 32
5 9,651 42
6 7,280 48
7 6,760 31
8 7,852 54
9 7,487 27
10 7,727 34
11 7,784 36
12 8,665 50
13 7,043 51
14 7,033 66
15 8,964 34
16 7,737 33
17 7,808 30
18 9,539 23
19 10,338 38
20 8,280 45
21 5,376 40
22 7,477 33
23 7,278 26
24 7,573 37
25 9,325 45
26 9,450 51
27 8,720 37
28 7,938 33
29 8,667 37
30 6,984 26

Canadian residents returning from abroad falls to a trickle

The number of Canadian residents returning from abroad – both from the United States and overseas countries – began a steep decline on March 21 that coincided with the closure of the Canada-US border. For the month of April 2020, 98.1% fewer Canadians crossed the border compared with the same month in 2019.

Chart 3 Canadian residents returning by air from abroad, March and April 2019 and 2020

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Date (appearing as row headers), 2019 and 2020, calculated using people units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Date 2019 2020
people
March
1 42,416 51,096
2 46,834 45,054
3 53,213 39,697
4 43,657 38,355
5 39,916 38,509
6 39,477 43,730
7 40,927 51,238
8 45,792 52,858
9 50,659 46,981
10 55,380 40,017
11 47,699 36,370
12 41,421 34,986
13 40,617 38,580
14 40,228 48,233
15 46,440 49,319
16 50,830 46,579
17 56,752 40,613
18 46,753 37,525
19 42,786 35,674
20 39,381 35,706
21 39,069 33,608
22 42,832 25,529
23 47,421 14,162
24 54,707 7,355
25 44,921 7,184
26 40,207 5,056
27 40,752 5,137
28 42,103 4,235
29 46,757 3,161
30 49,345 2,236
31 54,077 2,011
April
1 37,411 1,369
2 41,258 1,276
3 38,272 1,204
4 36,822 1,005
5 38,829 910
6 40,968 764
7 50,637 523
8 39,194 999
9 36,796 378
10 34,119 796
11 35,110 481
12 38,134 480
13 42,101 243
14 47,023 1,062
15 41,417 890
16 37,197 372
17 32,514 1,013
18 33,494 597
19 34,288 732
20 41,246 610
21 51,451 361
22 43,957 622
23 37,372 657
24 34,586 759
25 34,353 411
26 35,272 901
27 40,843 505
28 46,218 493
29 38,990 759
30 32,384 848

Methoology

Statistics Canada's Frontier Counts program is produced using administrative data received from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). One source on travellers entering the country by air is the Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) system. The electronic PIK system replaces the paper E311 Declaration Cards that are completed by international 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) and Calgary International Airport (where PIK was not deployed until the second quarter of 2019). 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.

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