More Prairie Jet-Setters Driving South for Flights

By Roger Currie

Prairie people love to escape the winter for a while, but despite having some of the finest airport facilities in the world, thousands of folks who live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan would rather drive 3 or 4 hours to Grand Forks or Minot to make their escape.

Airport managers in Winnipeg and Regina call it leakage, but it seems it’s becoming more of a flood is it not? In the past 12 months, close to a quarter of a million Manitobans, and a similar number from Saskatchewan, have made that long drive rather than catching a flight at home.

During Manitoba’s spring break a month ago, some of them got an unexpected overnight sleep on a gym floor in Drayton North Dakota when a blizzard closed the interstate going south.

You don’t have to be an economist like Stephen Harper to figure out why. Leaving aside the incredible bargain flights that are offered by many U.S, air carriers, a Canadian couple or family can almost cut the cost of their vacation in half by taking off in North Dakota, or any other border state.

The difference, plain and simple, is taxes. Richardson International in Winnipeg is a fabulous airport. It should be at a cost of more than half a billion dollars. Barry Rempel and his team have worked hard to secure great international connections.

But what is the point if taxes and other charges make it a no brainer to drive south instead? A huge factor is the cost of airport security. In the U.S., it’s Washington that pays for the folks who pat down travelers at the terminal. Here in Canada, it’s loaded onto the cost of your trip.

The result is the Winnipeg airport loses something like six million dollars in revenue each year, as well as many additional international flights that might easily be handled, creating hundreds more jobs.

I wonder why no one in Ottawa seems to be listening.

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Roger Currie is a writer, storyteller, voice for hire, observer of life on the Canadian prairies, and can be heard on CJNU 93.7FM in Winnipeg.