WestJet set to start Yukon flights in May

If you're thinking about heading south this summer, or having friends or family come to visit, you might want to book those plane tickets soon.

If you’re thinking about heading south this summer, or having friends or family come to visit, you might want to book those plane tickets soon.

On Monday, WestJet Airlines announced it will start offering service between Vancouver and Whitehorse this spring. As an introductory offer, the budget airline is selling some seats as cheap as $99.

This works out to about $130.33 once all the taxes and fees have been included.

The deal will be offered from May 17, when the service will launch, to Aug. 29.

Both of the Yukon’s existing airlines, Air Canada and Air North have already matched the low price.

“That’s what WestJet does. We come in and offer very low fares and right off the bat that’s a huge service to that community,” said WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer.

“And once people experience our service, they’ll fly with us over and over again.”

The seat sale will result in losses for all three carriers, said Air North president Joe Sparling.

Even with a full plane, WestJet needs to charge $130 to cover costs, he said.

But the Yukon rarely sees sold-out flights, averaging about 70 per cent capacity.

With a new airline adding another daily flight, that capacity is likely to drop further, increasing costs for all three airlines.

Sparling said WestJet is coming to Whitehorse to continue its nationwide competition with Air Canada rather than out of any interest in the small Yukon market.

“It’s pretty clear that the Yukon market is not going to have any real impact on the bottom line for either WestJet or Air Canada,” said Sparling.

“But getting caught up in the competitive battle between the two mainline carriers could have a very real impact on people in our community along with their families.”

Air North employs 168 full-time workers in the territory and spent more than $9 million on payroll last year.

These jobs include administration, sales and marketing, catering, maintenance and flight crew positions, he said.

“I believe that it is, or should be, important to our community that these jobs not be put at risk,” said Sparling.

But WestJet is here to prosper, said Palmer.

“We obviously believe that this is going to be a very successful service,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

“At the same time, how successful it is really is up to the consumer. The fate of any airline is in the hands of the community in which it resides.”

The southbound flights will leave at 8:30 in the morning and arrive in Vancouver at 10:46 a.m.

That will allow travellers to connect to WestJet’s outgoing flights to destinations throughout Canada, the U.S. (including four in Hawaii), Mexico and the Caribbean.

The northbound flights will leave Vancouver at 6:40 p.m., arriving in Whitehorse at 9:02 p.m.

WestJet will monitor the demand for the Whitehorse route, as well as the connecting flights its passengers make in Vancouver.

This will help them decide whether additional service or connecting flights between Whitehorse and other cities would make any sense.

The more people that fly with WestJet, the more services WestJet will offer. That’s the pitch they’re making anyway.

Through WestJet’s partnerships with Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, the airline hopes to attract more tourists from Asia to the Yukon.

The Yukon used to be a much bigger draw for Asian tourists, said Palmer.

However, those numbers dropped after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s starting to come back, from what we understand, which is one of the reasons we moved into Yellowknife three years ago,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to potentially bringing some of those folks back to see the northern lights and the land of the midnight sun.”

Once, the introductory seat sale is over at the end of August, one-way flights will be as low as $179 ($234.21 with taxes and fees). That is slightly cheaper than the discount flights that Air North and Air Canada have offered in the past.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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