Domestic flights into Yellowknife airport are picking up again after Air Canada resumed its three flight weekly service as of June 30.
The company said in a June 15 news release that the Yellowknife to Calgary thrice-weekly flights would be returning starting on the beginning of this month
Mark Galardo, Senior Vice President, Network Planning and Revenue Management at Air Canada said in a statement that the summer looks brighter now that vaccination rates have increased among Canadians.
“With Canada’s ongoing vaccine roll-out acceleration together with various provincial governments’ reopening plans that include travel, this summer is looking brighter,” he said. “As customers are ready to travel, Air Canada is taking a leadership position to support our partners in Canada’s tourism and hospitality sector with service to 50 destinations from coast to coast, the re-start of regional services and new, non-stop flights.”
In January, the company had suspended service to and from Yellowknife and announced in April that those services would be returning at the first of June.
Also in April the federal government had committed $4 billion in loans to the carrier plus a $500 million investment in Air Canada stock and an additional $1.4 billion for Air Canada to support customer refunds.
The company stated in its news release that it has put in place a new refund policy where customers can get a refund “to the original form of payment in instances where Air Canada cancels their flight or reschedules the departure time by more than three hours, irrespective of the reason.”
Customers will also be able to have the option to accept an Air Canada Travel Voucher or Aeroplan points with a 65 per cent bonus.
Air Canada’s return adds to the Westjet service that has remained in place during the pandemic.
Morgan Bell, media spokesperson for Westjet said that although the airline has faced a steep challenge during the pandemic where flight demand has dropped as much as 90 per cent, it has been able to continue some service over more than a year on the Yellowknife to Calgary flight. The Yellowknife to Edmonton flight has been suspended for several months due to the pandemic and isn’t expected to be back in service until Aug. 8.
“We made the decision to continue operating to as many of our domestic stations as we could understanding the critical and essential nature of our business to communities across the country,” she said. “While service was often offered at a lower frequency, our investments ensured that critical economic and cargo lifelines remained open.”
Bell said the company is optimistic about recovery of air travel, including in the North, as vaccination rates increase across the country.
Between July 5 and July 25, Westjet will provide five weekly flights from Yellowknife to Calgary but with no flights available on Tuesday or Saturday.
Between July 26 and August 4, Westjet Encore will be offering six flights weekly with no service on Saturday.
Both the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce and NWT Chamber of Commerce said increasing domestic flight options are promising signs for the weeks and months ahead, even as there is still some work to go to advocate for full recovery and reopening.
Deneen Everett, executive director with the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, who’s organization provided NNSL Media with a letter this week calling for the GNWT to push harder on reopening the territory, said Air Canada’s announcement is a welcome development.
“Having more flight options into Yellowknife is great news,” she said, but added that more has to be done to help airlines in rural, remote and northern communities.
She said through some of her organization’s advocacy efforts on national bodies like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, she is aiming to push for that type of help. She committed to disclosing the specifics of those efforts next week.
“So it’s super fantastic news, we just need to see some revisions to the Emerging Wisely so we can have a bit more travel here to the NWT.”
Renee Comeau, executive director with the NWT Chamber of Commerce said that the federal investments to Air Canada last spring will now mean that northern flight service can remain stable and tourism can gradually come back.
“With the isolation changes made June 21 those who are fully vaccinated but have young families can now have their fully vaccinated family members come up to visit without isolating,” she said. “This in itself will be a huge jump start to our tourism sector as a whole and with Aurora season starting in and around Aug. 15 we can hopefully look at fully reopening the territory to match one of our busiest tourism seasons.”