Charles Duncan, president of WestJet Encore, announced that the company will be flying direct to Calgary instead of Vancouver starting in 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

WestJet chooses Calgary over Vancouver for summer flights to Whitehorse

‘We serve 52 cities from Calgary as opposed to 31 from Vancouver’

WestJet is changing its summer flight plans to Whitehorse.

Instead of offering direct flights from Whitehorse to Vancouver this summer, as it has since 2012, the airline is planning to fly direct between Whitehorse and Calgary.

Charles Duncan, president of WestJet Encore, said the move is designed to give customers more options for connecting flights out of Calgary.

“We have a much bigger presence in Calgary. We serve 52 cities from Calgary as opposed to 31 from Vancouver. So we … know it will offer a lot more destinations and choice for both visitors coming up to Whitehorse and the Yukon as well as locals who want to travel south.”

Starting June 29 and running until Sept. 2, the airline will fly from Whitehorse to Calgary on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from Calgary to Whitehorse on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

The Calgary-bound flights all leave at 6 a.m. and Whitehorse-bound flights leave at 9:45 p.m.

Those times are designed so that people can make their connecting flights and avoid having to spend a night in a Calgary hotel, Duncan said.

“In truth, in past years, very few of the guests were going to Vancouver, they were connecting beyond and that was why we made this shift. Close to 70 or 80 per cent on the flights were actually going somewhere beyond.”

The change also means less competition. Air Canada does not fly direct to Calgary. Air North does have multiple Calgary flights.

“It looks like the situation may amount to more competition on one route but less on another,” Air North president Joe Sparling said in an email.

“We are used to competing for business.”

Duncan said markets are always competitive, including both in Calgary and Vancouver.

“For us really, this is all about, just, we’ve got a bigger presence in Calgary.”

Duncan said the growing market in Whitehorse was enough to justify four flights a week in each direction. Last summer the airline only flew three flights each way to Vancouver.

When WestJet first started flying to Whitehorse it originally offered daily flights in the summer before deciding to cut back.

Duncan said the company is always keeping an eye on the market to see if it might offer flights year-round.

“When we see demand increase, we want to add seats and add flights to meet that increased demand.”

The airline will be flying 737s between Calgary and Whitehorse. The smaller airplanes in the fleet are too small to make the trip, Duncan said.

How full a flight needs to be to make it profitable varies, he said, depending on factors like the cost of tickets, how far people are travelling and the price of oil.

“We need to be more full than 50 per cent generally but it’s not 90 (per cent). It’s somewhere (between) 70, 80 per cent, but there’s quite a wide range there.”

Flights go on sale starting Jan. 29.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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