How airlines are handling the evacuation of Yellowknife amid N.W.T. fire

Click to play video: 'NWT wildfires: Yellowknife residents ordered to evacuate city'
NWT wildfires: Yellowknife residents ordered to evacuate city
WATCH: NWT wildfires: Yellowknife residents ordered to evacuate city – Aug 17, 2023

As wildfires inch closer to the Northwest Territories’ capital of Yellowknife, several airlines that fly out of the city are adjusting schedules and fares as residents try to book flights out in the wake of an evacuation order.

The Northwest Territories’ government issued the order Wednesday night with residents in certain areas deemed highest risk urged to leave as soon as possible, and other residents told to evacuate by 12 p.m. MT on Friday.

With only one road out of Yellowknife leading away from the fire, some people have turned to airlines like Air Canada, WestJet and Canadian North to get out.

Though some took to social media on Wednesday and Thursday, posting images of high prices for some flights, some of the airlines contacted by Global News have stressed they are working to assist residents evacuate and are not over-charging.

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In a statement, Air Canada said that they had added two extra flights to their roster on Thursday including a substitution of one of the normal planes to a larger 169-seat Boeing 737. They also said they added an additional flight for Friday.

Air Canada said it was working with authorities to “determine how long we can continue to operate given the limitations being imposed on flying due to the fires.”

They noted they had cancelled flights out of Yellowknife on Saturday and were closely monitoring the situation.

Air Canada said in a statement that flights for the next few days are “fairly full” but will adjust their schedule as they can.

Air Canada has also put in a “goodwill Policy” that gives passengers the ability to change flights booked up to Aug. 30 or the passenger can get a full refund.

Click to play video: 'B.C. health minister provides details on incoming Yellowknife evacuees'
B.C. health minister provides details on incoming Yellowknife evacuees

“We have put in place a cap on our fares for non-stop flights out of Yellowknife, and if you go to the website, you can see the fares are not elevated,” a spokesperson said. “The allegations about higher pricing are not correct.”

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Following a meeting of the Incident Response Group, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement said he and the ministers involved stressed there “would be no tolerance for opportunistic price escalation, including airfare and essential goods for those impacted by the wildfires.”

WestJet, which also has flights out of the city, said that they had made change and cancel guidelines flexible for all guests travelling to the city between Thursday and Aug. 22.

They also had added “extra recovery” flights scheduled for Thursday between Yellowknife and Calgary, with larger aircraft to operate on flights between the cities for two other scheduled flights.

In addition, the airline said they’ve also increased the limit on pets allowed in the plane’s cabin to “ensure as many guests as possible can bring their pets onboard.”

They also said they were working to ensure guests leaving are charged appropriately by adjusting fare classes “to avoid price escalation.”

The airline advised there were six flights between Calgary and Yellowknife that had been cancelled for Friday and Saturday.

Click to play video: 'Calgary opens evacuation centre for N.W.T. wildfire evacuees'
Calgary opens evacuation centre for N.W.T. wildfire evacuees

Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement posted to X that he had spoken with the CEOs of both Air Canada and Canadian North. He said he stressed “any form of price gouging during an emergency is unacceptable.”

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Rodriguez’s spokesperson Nadine Ramadan also said in a statement to Global News that several airlines had been contacted to assist in the evacuations.

“We know some airlines are stepping up to support communities impacted by the evacuation order in their time of need, for example by adding additional frequencies to ensure everyone can be evacuated in a timely manner, and we continue to expect this of airlines who have the capacity to do so,” Ramadan said.

The minister also said in his post that he had granted various exemptions for air travel out of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. Those exemptions include extended flying hours for pilots, allowing passengers to bring their pets onboard, and more flexible ID requirements for those who may have left their identification behind.

Canadian North has advised that those in need of help with flight changes should contact the airline, though advised they are experiencing a high number of calls and had deployed emergency personnel.

In a statement to Global News, the airline said they have been conducting evacuation flights since Monday, adding that they have also allowed pets on a leash into the cabin and passengers to board without ID. They are also offering flexibility in changes and cancellations for all routes in the affected areas at no cost.

Starting Friday, the airline added that flights would be cancelled with aircraft being reassigned to help with other evacuation efforts by the territorial government, with connecting flights also cancelled. Customers impacted would be eligible for complimentary rebooking or would receive a full refund. People are advised to contact their original booking channel to request rebooking or refund.


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