U.S. airports benefit from Canadian "traveller drain"

(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

Jean-Sebastien Marsan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:49 PM ET

MONTREAL - Canadians who take the time to cross the U.S. border for a flight can enjoy big savings, but airlines here are paying the price.

A study out of the Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) says the cost of an airline ticket in Toronto is 20% higher than in Buffalo, N.Y. about a 90-minute drive away.

A flight departing from Vancouver is 44% more expensive than a trip from Bellingham, Wash., an hour across the border.

Montrealers enjoy the biggest savings of all, since a flight departing from Trudeau Airport costs, on average, 96% more than a ticket from nearby Plattsburgh, N.Y. or Burlington, Vt.

Plattsburgh International Airport makes no bones about its price advantage. Their slogan is "Montreal's U.S. Airport," much to the chagrin of Trudeau Airport officials.

Cheap U.S. airline tickets prompted about 337,000 Canadians to fly out of Plattsburgh and Burlington in 2010, according to UQAM's tourism department.

From Vancouver to Montreal, this "travellers drain" represented five million flights in 2011, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.

For the tourism industry on this side of the border, the numbers are worrisome.

The travellers drain was a hot topic Tuesday at the annual meeting of Quebec's tourism industry association, which held a joint news conference with Conference Board economist Martin Armstrong.

He says Canadian airlines earn higher revenues, but incur higher costs, than their American counterparts.

"The airline industry in Canada is not a monopoly that stuffs its pockets at the expense of consumers," said the economist.

He notes that equipment costs are 25% higher in Canada and airlines spend 10% more for labour than U.S. carriers, largely because of stringent regulations on this side of the border. Fuel costs are also 10% higher in Canada.

Airport charges, decried by the tourism industry, also swell the cost of an airline ticket. Canadian airports pay rent to the federal government along with municipal taxes, which is not the case in America.

Small U.S. airports, unlike their Canadian counterparts, also receive subsidies for each passenger as well as tax-exempt bonds.

The Conference Board suggests governments and industry rethink the cost structure of airports.

For example, the think tank proposes that airport rents no longer be based on income and that taxes and fees be harmonized with those in the United States.


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