Phoenix flyers have more international options than before the pandemic. Here's what's new

Michael Salerno
Arizona Republic

International travel is up sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic abated and countries have lifted travel and testing restrictions.

In 2022, international flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport carried 2.1 million passengers, up from 1.2 million passengers in 2021, airport data showed.

That's only about 2,525 fewer passengers than the 2.1 million passengers who flew internationally in 2019, before the pandemic.

That rebound mirrors global travel trends. International tourist arrivals from January to July 2022 increased by 172% worldwide over the same period in 2021 and reached 57% of prepandemic levels, according to the World Tourism Organization.

More than 900 million people traveled internationally in 2022, double the number recorded in 2021, the WTO stated.

Here's a look at what's new and different about international flights from Phoenix since the pandemic.

New airlines and routes:There are more flight options than ever from Sky Harbor

Here's how many international flights Phoenix has

Right now, you can fly to 24 cities outside the U.S. via Sky Harbor Airport. It offers flights to nine Canadian cities, 13 Mexican cities and two European cities.

American Airlines' recent introduction of a new route between Phoenix and Monterrey, Mexico, pushed the number of international cities available from Sky Harbor ahead of prepandemic numbers. Sky Harbor had 23 international destinations in 2019; that number fell to 15 in October 2021, airport spokesman Greg Roybal said.

Airlines value international routes from Sky Harbor because of the Phoenix metro area's economic growth and demographic changes in recent years, which made it a more lucrative market for international travel, said Alexandria "Lexie" Pierce, Sky Harbor's air service development manager.

"Feedback from airlines is that international markets at (Sky Harbor) have been performing relatively well for them compared to other U.S. airports, in particular since the pandemic," she said.

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Sky Harbor adds new Canadian carriers

While Valley airports resume and expand Canadian routes that existed before the pandemic, Sky Harbor also added a third Canadian carrier.

Lynx Air, an ultra-low-cost startup carrier, began flying between Phoenix and Calgary, Alberta, in February 2023.

The Lynx Air addition came as other airlines expanded and reintroduced routes. WestJet resumed service between Phoenix and Regina, Saskatchewan, in February, while Air Canada recently said it will expand service from Phoenix to Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary.

A fourth Canadian carrier is coming in fall 2023. Flair Airlines will offer service from Sky Harbor to Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton, Alberta, starting Oct. 30.

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Air Canada announced it will add seasonal nonstop flights from Montreal to Phoenix beginning in early 2018. The airline already offers connecting service between the cities.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport gains, then loses Canadian flights

Sky Harbor's gain of Flair Airlines is a loss for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

The east Mesa airport's seasonal service to five Canadian cities via WestJet, Swoop Getaways and Flair Airlines ended when the airlines decided not to return for 2023-24, citing unprofitability and lack of passengers.

WestJet offered direct flights to and from the Alberta cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

Swoop, WestJet's low-cost subsidiary, flew to Edmonton four days a week and Winnipeg, Manitoba, at least twice a week.

Flair offered Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday service to Edmonton, Tuesday and Saturday service to Toronto, and Monday and Friday service to Vancouver.

More Phoenix-Mexico flights and destinations

Sky Harbor had a head start on reestablishing its Mexico routes. Even as travel restrictions and testing and quarantine requirements made international treks a challenge, airlines still introduced new routes from Phoenix.

Demand remains strong for air travel between Phoenix and Mexico, as evidenced by American Airlines introducing Monterrey flights in January 2023.

Monterrey is American's 13th Phoenix-Mexico route. It also flies to Cancun, Culiacán, Guadalajara, La Paz, Hermosillo, Ixtapa-Zihuantanejo, La Paz, Loreto, Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos (the latter serving San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas).

Exterior view of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Resorts in Loreto, on the Baja Peninsula, reported benefiting from American Airlines adding flights to Loreto from Phoenix in December 2020 and optimism over a recent increase in flights on that route.

"We’ve seen strong demand over the past few years as travelers have opted for secluded, nature-filled destinations that are easily accessible," said Eduardo Rojas, general manager of Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto by Danzante Bay.

Sky Harbor was able to introduce new routes to Mexico during the pandemic because at that time airlines were relocating international itineraries to markets that were open for travel, Pierce said.

Besides American, Southwest Airlines and Volaris also offer flights to Mexico from Sky Harbor. Passengers can fly to Cancun and Los Cabos with Southwest, Guadalajara and Culiacán with Volaris, and Puerto Vallarta with both airlines.

Having these routes available gave travelers options for international trips, Pierce said.

"This also helped us perform strong on passenger numbers through the pandemic, and to come out even stronger as we are working to make the network offering for our customers even more exciting," she said.

Three airlines offer European options

Metro Phoenix residents interested in flying to Europe have a few options.

They can go to London via American Airlines or British Airways, or Frankfurt, Germany, with Condor Airlines, all routes that resumed within the past 14 months following pandemic-related hiatuses.

British Airways' flights to London resumed in August 2021, with American following suit this past April. Condor reestablished its service between Phoenix and Frankfurt with flights resuming in May 2022, and expanded flights to three times weekly in May 2023.

What's next for future international flights from Phoenix?

As demand for international travel has increased during 2022, Sky Harbor is working with European airlines to gauge interest in future routes to and from Phoenix, Pierce said.

"In the short term, the global economy, the strong dollar and the impact on European travelers may result in airlines having a more cautious approach to planning long-haul markets in 2023," she said.

"But over the long term, (Sky Harbor) has every reason to be optimistic."

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