Air Canada will suspend passenger service to Yellowknife on January 23 until further notice.
The airline said in an email on Tuesday it was cutting flights to the capital of the Northwest Territories due to “muffled demand for ongoing travel restrictions and general quarantine rules” resulting from the pandemic COVID-19.
“Operating in this environment is not sustainable and we have made difficult decisions to suspend all passenger activities at the Yellowknife airport until further notice, effective January 23, 2021.”
NWT Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie said the territorial government is disappointed, but “understands that businesses need to make decisions that they believe best fit their business model and market conditions ”.
She said the decision would not affect the territory’s ability to provide medical travel services that residents depend on to access services outside of the NWT.
Air Canada cuts service to Newfoundland and Labrador
In the meantime, the airline has also announced cuts to passenger service to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Air Canada is cutting all service to Labrador and cutting two other routes from Newfoundland, the company said on Tuesday.
Service between Gander and Halifax, Goose Bay and Halifax, and St. John’s and Toronto ends January 23.
The move follows a massive reduction in service to Newfoundland and Labrador last summer, when the airline dropped seven routes serving the province.
A spokesperson told TBEN News in statements regarding the suspension of flights to the two regions that the airline has experienced “stifled demand” due to COVID-19, ongoing travel restrictions and demands for quarantine.
As a result, the company “suspends all passenger flights to these destinations until further notice.”
‘Right of refund’
A spokesperson for Omar Alghabra, the federal transport minister, said the ministry was disappointed the airline had canceled more regional routes.
“Accessibility to all of our regions is important and air links are essential to regional economic development and prosperity,” said Allison St-Jean.
“Before we spend a dime of taxpayer dollars on the airlines, we’ll make sure Canadians get their money back, regional communities keep air links with the rest of Canada and Canadian air carriers retain their status as key customers of the Canadian aerospace industry. “
She added that the federal government knows that the major airlines need support and is in the process of developing a package of assistance for the airline industry.
In its email, Air Canada says its “overall network capacity” is down about 80% from 2019.
The airline says it will continue to assess and adjust its routes based on the trajectory of the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Air Canada did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
Gabor Lukacs, president of the non-profit Air Passenger Rights, said Air Canada has no legal obligation to operate a route anywhere.
However, he said, passengers have “an unconditional right to a refund” if a flight for which they have purchased a ticket has been canceled.
“The airlines have not respected the rights of consumers, so I cannot be sure that they will honor the rights of passengers of their own accord,” he said.
An Air Canada spokesperson said in an email to TBEN News that “all affected customers will be contacted and will offer options, including refunds where appropriate.”
Others maintain the service
The announcement came as no surprise to Joe Sparling, president of Air North.
Last summer, the Yukon-based airline suspended its scheduled service between Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Ottawa, citing reduced travel demand and border restrictions.
“The Yellowknife market clearly couldn’t support multiple carriers in this environment and Whitehorse is in a very similar situation,” he said.
WestJet and Canadian North also offer passenger flights to Yellowknife.
In an email to TBEN News, a spokesperson for Canadian North said the company intended to “maintain our current services.”
WestJet said it continues to operate four flights per week between Yellowknife and Calgary.
The airline said it had been forced to suspend the vast majority of its flights across the country due to the pandemic and was operating at 80% less capacity than a year ago.