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Canadian Airlines Add Capacity to Evacuate City Under Wildfire Threat

An Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8. (Photo: Air Canada)

Canadian airlines and the Royal Canadian Air Force are assisting in the evacuation of residents from multiple towns in the Northwest Territories and the province’s capital city Yellowknife. Following the declaration of a state of emergency on 15 August due to uncontrollable wildfires, a number of carriers that operate in the region such as Air Canada, WestJet and Canadian North amended schedules ahead of a noon Friday 18 August evacuation deadline. The Northwest Territories government stated that ‘only residents who do not have the option to leave the area by road are asked to register for evacuation flights.’

“Flights will be running 24/7”

CBC News reported that in addition to scheduled services, 1,500 residents were airlifted on Thursday on 10 evacuation flights. A further 22 evacuation flights were scheduled for Friday offering an additional 1,800 seats. The city of Yellowknife has an estimated population of 20,000 and government officials estimated a further 5,000 residents were looking to evacuate by air. Jennifer Young, emergency management organization information officer told CBC News “We will be running flights 24/7 until we have the population that is wanting to get out on flights are able to evacuate via those flights.”

Consideration was being given on flights for ‘more than 200 residents needing extra health care and attention, such as chemotherapy patients, people in late-term pregnancies, seniors, people with disabilities and vulnerable residents.’ Prisoners and corrections officers from correctional facilities would also be evacuated on specific flights.

Air Canada issued a statement advising: “For Thursday, August 17, we added two extra flights, doubling the normal frequencies to four. We have also substituted a larger 169-seat Boeing 737 for one of those flights to provide extra seat availability. For Friday, August 18, Air Canada has also added an extra B737 flight in addition to the usual two flights, and we will continue evaluating opportunities for adjustments.  At this time, there will be no flights to or from Yellowknife on Saturday, August 19 due to the government evacuation order. We plan to operate as the situation permits.”

CTV News reported that WestJet ‘added an extra recovery flight scheduled for Thursday between Yellowknife and Calgary, and added larger aircraft to operate previously scheduled flights between the cities.’ The airline was implementing flexible guidelines for changes and cancellations and amending its policy on pets on board to assist residents.

Commercial airlines were accused of taking advantage of the situation by escalating fare prices from Yellowknife. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “(there) would be no tolerance for opportunistic price escalation, including airfare and essential goods for those impacted by the wildfires” after images of exorbitant fares were shared on social media.

Air Canada denies allegations of price gouging

Air Canada addressed criticisms and alleviated concerns regarding alleged price gouging by categorically stating that the allegations were incorrect. In a statement, the carrier said: “The examples on social media are aggregated fares by websites which are not in line with what we are offering on our non-stop flights from Yellowknife. For example, some involve several stops and other carriers, with some trips lasting as much as 21 hours, when a normal non-stop Yellowknife-Calgary flight is two hours.  We endeavor to get these aggregated fares corrected where possible – however, customers should always ensure they are purchasing the non-stop fares directly from the aircanada.com website or from a travel agent to avoid the multi-leg routings.”

The airline further continued: “We also monitor the pricing on aircanada.com to ensure that the capped fares continue to display as intended. Sometimes it requires taking steps to correct fares manually when they may not display as they should due to certain technical factors. Rest assured, we get these corrected as soon as possible, and we refund passengers who inadvertently purchase a fare before it gets corrected by our team.”

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John has held the positions of course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and has been a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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