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Questions about air travel price-gouging over holidays with B.C. highways closed

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Road closures will likely impact holiday travel' B.C. floods: Road closures will likely impact holiday travel
A warning is being sounded for British Columbians -- ahead of the holidays -- your travel plan might have to change -- and it's all the fault of November’s disastrous flooding. The destruction of parts of two major B.C. highways and the designation of a third as for 'essential travel only' will severely limit road travel between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province -- and as Emily Lazatin reports -- the other option - flying - is going to be pricey – Dec 7, 2021

Concerns are being raised about airline price-gouging, as British Columbians wanting to see loved ones for the holidays face fewer options due to flood-damaged highways.

Significant flooding in November washed out highways and infrastructure meaning there are now only a few options to drive, so travellers are turning to flying as an alternative. However, travellers are finding high prices.

Read more: B.C. floods: No timeline on when Highway 3 may open to recreational vehicles

For example, flying from Vancouver to Kamloops on Dec. 21 and returning on Dec. 28 is currently on sale for $1,144 on Air Canada and $1,298 on WestJet. That includes a stop in Calgary.

Those prices were shown on the Expedia.ca website Tuesday afternoon.

On AirCanada.com, flights between Vancouver and Kamloops on Dec. 21 were selling for US $339 Tuesday. Roughly $428.42 in Canadian dollars.

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A flight returning from Kamloops to Vancouver on Dec. 29 (there wasn’t one available on Dec. 28) was selling for US $327 Tuesday. Roughly $413.29 in Canadian dollars.

Both of those flights also include a stop in Calgary.

In total, that is $853.89 on the Air Canda website.

In a statement to Global News, Air Canada said it has added capacity to the B.C. Interior markets, namely Kelowna and Kamloops with an additional 1,500 seats to support transportation options.
“Fares were also capped on these markets,” the company said. “We also additionally added cargo capacity into our YVR hub from Toronto specifically to support the vital economic supply chain via all-cargo flights and larger passenger aircraft.”

Air Canada said the December holiday period is a peak time for travel and its schedule was planned in advance to meet demand.

“We are continuing to look at all possibilities to add capacity to markets which is dependent on fleet and resources,” the statement added.

B.C.’s Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, said Monday there are concerns about price gouging in the industry.

“It is a federally regulated industry,” he said.

“The challenge, of course, is twofold. One is it is a holiday. It is the holiday season and prices are typically higher at this time of year. But also we want to make sure that, as much as possible, airlines have the capacity and the ability to deal with the demand in a way that does not result in people having to pay exorbitant, exorbitant fares.”

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Travel expert Claire Newell told Global News Tuesday that prices for flights do escalate over the holidays but this year seems to be a “perfect storm” she said.

“We’ve got people who are desperate to see family, that maybe haven’t seen them, in some cases, prior to the pandemic starting and others, who maybe need to get down to (the Vancouver airport) from the Interior so I was hoping to see more flights come into the system,” Newell said. “That we would see larger aircraft put on or maybe more frequency in flights and I haven’t seen that.”

Read more: The privilege of pandemic private jets. How wealthy Canadians travelled during COVID-19

Newell added she has seen some flights priced at $800 each way from Vancouver to Kelowna, which is high and could be the same as travelling internationally.

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While high prices in B.C. are not new, it’s just terrible timing, she said, as people do not have the option to drive.

“For some people, it’s the perfect storm of a nightmare with the holidays just around the corner,” Newell added.

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Meanwhile, the provincial government is advising people not to expect Highway 3 to reopen to non-essential travel.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming was asked multiple times during a news conference on Monday whether to expect a change for the major route through southern B.C. that was heavily damaged by the recent flooding and landslides.

Read more: Road builders ready as B.C. seeks bids to repair flooded highways

The province will continue to update the public, but the highway remains open to essential vehicles only, for now, he said, as substantial long-term repairs continue.

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“We’re working with the transportation sector, including the airline industry, to look at additional flights from Abbotsford Airport, Vancouver Airport, Victoria to destinations in the Interior of the province,” Fleming said Monday.

Newell added the lifeline for tourism in the province are B.C.’s highways and with so many restrictions in place for driving this holiday season, it may not be the Christmas many had planned for.

Global News has reached out to WestJet and Air Canada for comment.

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