First Air, Calm Air flight changes frustrate Kivalliq residents

Airlines First Air and Calm Air have entered a 'codeshare' agreement to better service Nunavut's Kivalliq region, but the transition has led to cancellations and rebookings, with others bemoaning the lack of competition.

Cancellations, rebookings plague transitional period to new shared booking system

Passengers flying to and from Nunavut's Kivalliq region are experiencing frustrating changes to service, as the two airlines servicing the region adapt to a new "codeshare" agreement.

First Air ended most of its scheduled flights to Kivalliq hamlets on June 1. Instead, it has entered into a codeshare agreement with Calm Air, selling seats and cargo space on the other airline's flights.

Under the new agreement, both airlines can sell tickets on Calm Air's flights in the Kivalliq region, and on First Air's flights to Winnipeg.

Gary Bell, Calm Air's president, says the airline will increase its schedule in the region under the new agreement. It will include three flights a day (two on Saturday) from Rankin Inlet to Arviat and Baker Lake, and two flights a day (one on Saturday and Sunday) to Coral Harbour, Repulse Bay, Whale Cove, and Chesterfield Inlet.

Rough Transition

The new agreement sounds good, but the transition has been rough. Calm Air will roll out its new schedule for the region July 2 — a full month after First Air cut its back.

That lag time has led to missed connections and rebookings, including for Baker Lake's Miranda Tulurialik, who says that in early June, her flight from Baker Lake to Arviat was cancelled three days in a row.

"I was planning to go to Arviat just for a week to see family and friends," she said. "But my time off is getting shorter. I am not sure when I will leave because I have been trying to get ahold of Calm Air, but there is no answer."

Tara Campbell, who also lives in Baker Lake, is concerned about the agreement reducing the amount of competition in the region. 

"I feel like I don't have a choice," says Campbell. "There's no competition now. So my only choice is the one and only option to get me from Winnipeg to Baker."

Calm Air says it won't raise prices, despite being the only airline serving some communities in the Kivalliq.

Transitional issues also appear to be plaguing First Air, which says it is booking flights to smaller communities through partner airlines. However, when CBC attempted to do so, a booking agent with the airline could not book those flights.