Source: The Wall Street Journal
Canadians have discovered a cheaper way to fly to the United States: Drive there first.
Rising flight taxes and a strengthening Canadian dollar are pushing Canadians to begin their US-bound trips on US soil. Now airlines are rushing to meet the demand, adding service at small outposts along the border.
Discount carrier Allegiant Travel Co. first stumbled onto the strategy in 2004 when it began service from Bellingham, Wash., a city of 81,000 an hour south of Vancouver. The carrier quickly found that more than half of its passengers were driving there from Canada. Since then, Allegiant has unlocked a new customer base by filling planes with Canadians at a dozen lower-cost airports strung along the Canadian border.
For the border airports, the Canadian passengers have meant new life. At the three where Canadians make up more than 60 percent of the passengers -- Bellingham, Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- departing passengers have more than tripled to a total of 750,000 since 2007, and major expansions are planned or underway.
In Plattsburgh, just 60 miles (97km) south of Montreal, city officials in 2007 turned the former local air force base into an airport and nicknamed it "l'aeroport americain de Montreal" or Montreal's US airport. The airport's website and all of its signs are bilingual, and employees are offered French classes.
"We knew it was going to be successful," said Michele Powers of the area chamber of commerce, "but we had no idea it was going to grow this quickly." Passenger traffic has tripled since 2008, and officials are now planning to double the size of the terminal just five years after its opening.
Taxes and fees on a flight from Canada to US cities can be four times higher, or nearly $100 more each way, than on flights to the same destinations from US airports located just miles across the border. Canadian airlines say that gap has made it nearly impossible to compete.
Canadian airport officials estimate the preflight migration costs the country nearly 9,000 jobs and $1.1 billion in gross domestic product a year. They also say there are also countless Americans who fly to US border airports and then drive to Canada to save on fares.