Why Air Canada's summer seat sale was a first in 1982

A recession prompted the airline to offer flights at a discount during peak season, and cost-conscious travellers responded.

Recession pushed the airline to introduce a seat sale for peak travel season

When the summer seat sale was rare

Digital Archives

39 years ago
The recession of 1982 was affecting Air Canada as much as any other business. Holding a seat sale was its solution. 1:47

An Air Canada seat sale wasn't usually newsworthy enough that Knowlton Nash was ready to tell viewers all about it.

But this one was different, as he explained on CBC's The National on April 13, 1982.

Unlike previous seat sales, the airline was offering a discount for flights scheduled for the summer.

"That's a sign the airline might be going through some tough economic times," said Nash.

'Distressing travel market'

Passengers line up to check their bags at what was then known as the Toronto International Airport. It was renamed for Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson two years later. (The National/CBC Archives)

Reporter David Burt described the cuts in seat prices as "unprecedented."

"They take effect in the peak summer travel period, between June 19th and September 7th," he explained.

He added that Air Canada had announced the sale amid a "depressing economic outlook" and "distressing travel market."

Airline Vice President John McMurtry was frank about Air Canada's motivations.

"We're doing it basically because business is down," he said. "Our advance bookings for the summer looked very poor, quite light."

Only on flights within Canada

Air Canada was introducing the seat sale to boost its bookings on all domestic flights. (The National/CBC Archives)

The 50 per cent off sale applied to some 400,000 seats on flights within Canada only, said Burt.

According to the Globe and Mail, that accounted for about 10 per cent of seats. 

"Here's a sample of what they are dangling in front of Canadians," said Burt as artwork depicting an Air Canada plane showed fares on three routes.

Toronto to Halifax would cost $166 return. That's $431 in 2020, according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator.

Regina-Calgary, also return, cost $112 (or $291 adjusted). And the flight from Toronto to Vancouver and back was set at $343, or $892 in 2020.

You had to book early

“I think it should be all year round,” said a passenger who liked the idea of Air Canada’s seat sale in 1982. (The National/CBC Archives)

As with any deal, there was a hitch, said Burt.

"Travellers must stay in their destination for seven to 30 days before using their return ticket," he said.

The Globe and Mail reported additional strings: bookings had to be made and paid for 45 days before departure, and could not be made by telephone.

Nevertheless, travellers were pleased, describing the sale as "fabulous," "great" and "fantastic." 

"A seat sale is really the garage sale of the airline business," wrote the Globe and Mail's travel columnist four days after this report aired. "The airline sells only those seats it believes would remain unsold normally."

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