Anniversary seat sale grounds Air North's booking system

The Yukon-based airline's one-day seat sale hit some turbulence on Wednesday, causing headaches for booking agents, and possibly delaying some flights.

'We're about seven times the normal activity, so it's kind of swamped us,' said airline president Joe Sparling

Air North passengers in Vancouver wait in line to check in. The airline's entire system was slowed on Wednesday by high demand for seat sale tickets. (Gordon Loverin)

A one-day anniversary sale at Air North "swamped" the airline's computer system, causing headaches for booking agents and flight attendants, and likely delaying some flights.

The Yukon-based airline was offering discounts on all flights booked on Wednesday, to mark its 40th anniversary. Demand was so intense that the airline's booking site slowed to a crawl, and passengers at the Vancouver airport had to be checked in manually.

"The system has been overwhelmed," said company president Joe Sparling. "We're about seven times the normal activity, so it's kind of swamped us."

Air North president Joe Sparling says the sale generated a much higher lever of demand than anticipated. (CBC)

Sparling said the company has had one-day seat sales before, but they've never "bogged down" the system like this.

"It's taken a phenomenal amount of time to complete a booking. There's a lineup of people downstairs in the call centre, there's a big queue on the phones, people are having trouble making bookings on the web, and we're having trouble checking people in, in Vancouver," he said.

Sparling said there may even be delays of some afternoon flights because of the system slow down.

"It's a bit of an unintended consequence," he said.

Some customers waited hours at the Whitehorse booking office to buy a discount ticket. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Ken Jones was among the group of people waiting at the airline's Whitehorse booking office to buy a ticket. He waited more than two hours, hoping to score a cheap flight to Vancouver, where he wants to see a horse show.

"It's worth it," he said. "Forty per cent off is a nice benefit, thanks to Joe."

The sale was scheduled to end Wednesday at midnight, but the airline decided to extend it into Thursday, "so people don't go away disappointed," Sparling said.

He's happy to sell so many discount tickets, saying it "pays dividends in spades" to recognize customer support and loyalty — but wishes he could have anticipated the demand. 

"I think if we'd seen this coming, we'd have spread it out over a couple of days," Sparling said.

"What are we going to do when it's 50 years?"

with files from Vic Istchenko


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