Nunavut sports teams say airlines' codeshare agreement foiling trips
First Air and Calm Air offer schedule changes to help Coral Harbour soccer team get to Yellowknife
Nunavut sports teams say travelling for tournaments is becoming too inconvenient because of the codeshare agreement between First Air and Canadian North, forcing them to cancel trips.
The two northern airlines launched the agreement last year, which allows them to sell seats and cargo on some of each other's flights. In many cases, it means fewer flights for communities.
Doris Bruce has been coaching a team of soccer players from Coral Harbour over the last four years to play at the Super Soccer tournament in Yellowknife. This year, her team of under-19 boys have run into a snag.
"It's getting very complicated," Bruce said.
Because of the codeshare agreement, a three-day tournament will keep them in Yellowknife for nine days this month. In previous years, Bruce only had to budget for a five-day trip.
"That's a lot of time off from school for these boys, 'cause my number one thing is school, of course," she said.
"It's very frustrating, especially living in a small town where we get only one airline that can make the connection, and it's almost an opportunity that we're gonna miss because we might not even be able to go if we don't come up with the extra money to go."
Bruce estimates that this year the team will need another $10,000, on top of the $16,000 they already raised.
Hockey teams pull out of tournaments
Rankin Inlet's senior men's hockey league has opted out of sending an A league team to the First Air Cup, held every year in Yellowknife.
"With this new codeshare... it's been kind of difficult this past season to get things going," says Andrew Simms, who plays in the league.
Schedule changes between Rankin Inlet and Yellowknife under the codeshare agreement mean the team would have to stay in Yellowknife for five days for a weekend tournament.
"It was too tough with people and their growing families with young ones or school or work," Simms said.
It's been a tough pill to swallow for a competitive team. Simms said the team raised funds to participate in the tournament and reservations were made — instead, they're hoping to go to Iqaluit's Toonik Tyme tournament this weekend.
Rankin Inlet's old timers' league is also opting out of a tournament in Yellowknife this weekend.
Player Robert Kabvitok says it would cost players $2,500 each to fly to Yellowknife for the Balsillie Cup because of the codeshare agreement. The team is now looking to play in a tournament in Iqaluit, where Canadian North is offering each player a seat for $1,900.
'It's completely worth it'
This year's Super Soccer tournament will see teams from Yellowknife, Inuvik, Yukon, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk — and hopefully, Coral Harbour.
Coach Bruce says the boys soccer team is determined to raise the extra $10,000 in time to play in the tournament, which starts April 21.
"It's completely worth it." she said.
"It's priceless to see the kids' face when they're finally out of their hometown and play in a tournament somewhere else."
Calm Air is helping the team out — donating two airline tickets and giving them a 72 per cent discount on seats to Rankin Inlet.
"They're all excited because they've never been outside of Nunavut to go for a tournament so this is a first for the boys," Bruce says.
Teams from Iqaluit have opted out of the tournament, saying that the codeshare schedule doesn't make it possible.
Airlines step up
After hearing about the Coral Harbour team's plight, First Air and its partner Calm Air have made arrangements to get the soccer players to Yellowknife and back in five days.
"We've been able to align schedules to allow for improved connectivity for this team to travel," said Bert van der Stege, First Air's vice-president of commercial.
He said he's happy the airlines could help the team.
"We found a solution for this particular group, which allows them to participate," he said.
"And we've collectively been able to reduce the cost of air transportation for them, so that it's feasible for this team to participate."
Van der Stege says they've also offered some merchandise to the team to use for fundraising.
As for the teams from Iqaluit, he said hopefully they can work something out to get them to the tournament.
"It's sad to hear, and I can only offer what we've offered to the team from Coral Harbour," van der Stege said.
"We're more than happy to look at what we can do to help the Iqaluit team. Hopefully they can still make it."
He added that the codeshare airlines are always looking at ways to improve schedules, saying "nothing is set in stone."