Aircraft taking off at Bellingham Airport. Half of B.C. Lower Mainland air travellers report driving across the border to fly out of U.S. airports.

Half of Lower Mainland air travellers fly out of U.S., poll finds

Trend growing to drive across border to catch cheaper flights

A new poll shows half of Lower Mainland air travellers recently drove to the U.S. to catch a cheaper flight instead of using a B.C. airport.

The Insights West online survey found 51 per cent of respondents who flew anywhere in the last two years did so at least once by driving across the border to airports like Bellingham or Seattle.

“It was more than I expected,” Insights West senior vice-president Catherine Dawson said.

She said the trend seems to be growing, with 23 per cent saying they cross the line more often to fly now than they did three years ago, compared to six per cent who said they do it less often.

Lower prices offered out of U.S. airports were the overwhelming reason, listed as an important factor by 97 per cent of those polled, far ahead of considerations like airline preference, ease of border crossing, or whether they have friends or family across the line where they can stay or park their car.

Dawson said the 49 per cent who stuck to Canadian airports would include some who didn’t have a choice because they were flying to smaller B.C. towns not served by U.S. airports.

Had those been factored out, she said, it might well be that a clear majority of Lower Mainland flyers with an option to fly via a U.S. airport are making that choice.

The poll found most Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley flyers using U.S. airports were heading to U.S. destinations, while 19 per cent were bound for other international cities.

But one finding Dawson called “very surprising” is that seven per cent were crossing the line to take short flights of less than three hours to Canadian destinations and six per cent were taking longer flights back into Canada.

Dawson said the cost of flights is the “prime motivator” and air travellers polled were quick to blame both the airlines and the federal government but not themselves for using U.S. carriers.

Fully 97 per cent agreed, 72 per cent strongly, that Canadian airlines need to improve their pricing if they want to prevent Canadians from driving to U.S. airports. They also cited higher taxes and fees adding to Canadian ticket prices.

Dawson doubted whether that majority view is logical.

“Is the Canadian air industry ever going to be competitive in the way U.S. airlines are? I’m not sure they can. It sort of calls into question whether Canadians are being realistic or not.”

Insights West surveyed 450 Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley residents, and focused on the 77 per cent of local residents who took a flight of any kind in the last two years. For more details see www.insightswest.com.

The findings come on the heels of a February poll on cross-border shopping trends that found a large majority of the Lower Mainland’s residents regularly shop in the U.S.