Air Canada to suspend passenger service to Yellowknife and Labrador later this month
Airline cutting operations due to 'stifled demand,' travel restrictions, quarantine rules
Air Canada is suspending passenger service to Yellowknife on Jan. 23 until further notice, citing reduced demand amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline is also eliminating all service to Labrador and cutting two more routes out of Newfoundland, the company said Tuesday.
The airline said in an email on Tuesday that it's cutting flights to the Northwest Territories capital due to "stifled demand from ongoing travel restrictions and blanket quarantine rules" stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Operating in this environment is not sustainable and we have made difficult decisions to suspend all passenger operations to Yellowknife airport until further notice, effective January 23, 2021."
N.W.T. Minister of Infrastructure Diane Archie said the territorial government is disappointed but "understands that businesses must make decisions that they believe best fit with their business model and market conditions."
Archie said the decision will not affect the territory's ability to provide medical travel services that residents depend on to access services outside the N.W.T.
Air Canada to cut service in Newfoundland and Labrador
Meanwhile, the airline has also announced cuts to passenger service in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Service between Gander and Halifax, Goose Bay and Halifax, and St. John's and Toronto ends Jan. 23.
The move follows a mass reduction in service to Newfoundland and Labrador last summer, when the airline dropped seven routes servicing the province.
A spokesperson told CBC News in statements regarding the suspension of flights in both regions, that the airline had experienced "stifled demand" due to COVID-19, ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
As a result, the company is "suspending until further notice all passenger flights to these destinations."
'Right to refund'
A spokesperson for Omar Alghabra, the federal minister of transport, said the department was disappointed the airline cancelled more regional routes.
"Accessibility of all of our regions is important and air links are essential to regional economic development and prosperity," said Allison St-Jean.
"Before we spend one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, we will ensure that Canadians get their refunds, regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada and Canadian air carriers maintain their status as key customers of Canada's aerospace industry."
She added the federal government knows major airlines need support and is developing a package of assistance for the airline industry.
In its email, Air Canada says its "overall network capacity" is down about 80 per cent from 2019.
The airline says it will continue to evaluate 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 organization 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 bought a ticket has been cancelled.
"Airlines have been delinquent in respecting consumers rights, so I cannot be sure that they are going to honour the right of passengers out of their own volition," he said.
A spokesperson for Air Canada said in an email to CBC News that "any affected customers will be contacted and provided options, including refunds as applicable."
Others maintaining service
The announcement didn't come as a surprise to Joe Sparling, president of Air North.
Last summer, the Yukon-based airline suspended its planned service between Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Ottawa, citing reduced travel demand and border restrictions.
"The Yellowknife market clearly could not support multiple carriers in this environment and Whitehorse is in a very similar situation," he said.
WestJet and Canadian North also run passenger flights to Yellowknife.
In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Canadian North said the company intends "to maintain our current services."
WestJet said it continues to operate four flights a week between Yellowknife and Calgary.
The airline said it has been forced to suspend the vast majority of its flights across the country due to the pandemic and is operating at 80 per cent less capacity than a year ago.