Air Canada says it will offer refunds for customers who paid premium fares on flights from Fort McMurray and Edmonton on May 3 and May 4.
Several posts on social media showed Air Canada charging premium prices for flights in Alberta following the wildfire in Fort McMurray that forced more than 80,000 people from their homes.
One person who contacted Global News said ticket prices for a flight from Fort McMurray to Edmonton cost $699 before taxes for a flight that normally costs around $200 for a discounted ticket, leading to questions about whether the airline was gouging customers. Global News was not able to independently verify the prices.
A spokesperson for Air Canada said the higher fare was due to the airline’s “computerized revenue management system.”
“It is not correct that we raised fares in response to this situation,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, in an email to Global News.
“This was a result of Air Canada’s computerized revenue management system, which automatically manages fares,” Fitzpatrick said. “Regrettably, we were unable to intervene in advance to manually adjust fares and in those instances we will be contacting customers who paid a premium to adjust the fare to the normally available, lowest advance fare and refund the difference.”
Air Canada added that when flights are full, lower fares are the first to be sold out and the airline will continue to monitor the situation in Fort McMurray.
Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM) said via Twitter Wednesday morning that all commercial flights were suspended as of 11:30 a.m. MT.
The devastating wildfire that has destroyed more than 1,600 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray led to widespread air travel disruptions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Some upset travellers took to Facebook to show departing flights from Edmonton to Sydney, N.S., costing in excess of $5,000 before taxes.
While same day travel tends to be more expensive, a search Thursday on Air Canada’s website found departing flights from Edmonton to Sydney for $900, while return flights on Friday cost between $300 and $700.
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On Thursday, Air Canada round-trip flights from Edmonton to Halifax on Thursday were selling for as low as $684 after taxes.
By comparison, WestJet did not have any flights from Edmonton to Sydney on Thursday, but a flight from Sydney to Edmonton cost $315.86.
The average economy fare for a domestic flight in Canada is $285.50, while the average discounted fare is $174.10 and $2,893.90 for a business class ticket, according to Statistics Canada.
Dr. Verna Yu, interim president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said more than 100 patients evacuated from Fort McMurray hospital and were moved to areas outside the city on Tuesday night before being moved to Edmonton by Wednesday morning.
Yu said some of the patients, including nine babies and their mothers, were flown on WestJet planes to Edmonton.
*With a file from Erika Tucker