North

Few flights and high prices burst northern travel bubble for some 

The only flight between Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet now includes an overnight in Cambridge Bay. 'You know what?' says Rachel Marin. 'I can't really do that.'

Canadian North is running 50% of the flights it used to, with 10% of the passengers

Rachel Marin isn't sure she can travel to her home town of Ranklin Inlet, Nunavut, given the change in flight routes that will make it a costly trip. (submitted by Rachel Marin)

When Rachel Marin heard about the N.W.T.-Nunavut travel bubble, she thought her summer was saved. Though she's lived in Yellowknife since 2001, she loves returning to her home town, Rankin Inlet. 

"I was like, 'Wow this is so awesome!'" she said. "It's pretty neat to have this [COVID-19-]free zone that you can travel in." 

The mood shifted when she found out that the only airline with scheduled flights between the two territories is still running far fewer flights, at higher costs to customers. 

The airline has cancelled direct flights between Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet to Iqaluit. Passengers from Yellowknife now have to overnight in Cambridge Bay, then take a second flight that goes to Rankin Inlet and on to Iqaluit. A one-night stay in a hotel in Cambridge Bay costs about $250. 

"You know what?" Marin said. "I can't really do that." 

Inukshuk Aksalnik, who lives in Nunavut, looked into making the trip from Iqaluit to Yellowknife. She stopped when she found out the cost. 

"I'll wait for the airline to reintroduce the Iqaluit-Rankin-Yellowknife flight and hope it doesn't cost $9,000 for a family of three," Aksalnik said. 

90 per cent drop in business

Andrew Pope, vice-president with Canadian North, said although the travel bubble came as "encouraging and welcoming news for our business," the company has a long way to go before it's back to business as usual. 

The airline has seen an 80 to 90 per cent drop in passengers since the onset of the pandemic, he said. It's now offering about 50 per cent of the flights they had before. 

And even that leaves planes a lot emptier than they used to be, Pope said.

As for prices, Pope said they haven't raised any, but in some cases, new routing has almost doubled the fare. 

The federal and territorial governments have given the newly merged airline millions of dollars to stay afloat through the crisis. 

In May, Canadian North got over $5 million in federal pandemic relief funds filtered through the N.W.T. government. Nunavut has offered federal pandemic bailout money along with payments to make up for what the government would normally pay for medical and government travel.

Pope said his company has been working closely with the territorial governments to maintain an essential level of service. He said that's how they arrived at the revised routing of Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay to Iqaluit. 

However, he also said new flights and routes would be considered as demand returns. 

And while the company is grateful for the support it's receive so far, he said the airline will need even more. 

"Even with some of the gains that we have seen in the last month, it still does look like a very long road to recovery."

For Marin, who hopes to make her trip in August or September, she plans to wait and see what the options are before she books anything.   

She said a Canadian North travel agent she spoke to said the airline is now making plans "month by month." 

"At one point we were day by day, week by week, now we're month by month, which is pretty good," said Marin. "Maybe soon we'll be open and go wherever we please."

Written by Sara Minogue, with files from Kate Kyle

now