Calgary-based WestJet Airlines dropped a news bomb on the Yukon this week.
After years of tire-kicking, it’s finally decided to plunge into the Whitehorse market.
With both feet. And at bargain-basement prices.
Beginning May 17, it’s adding the Vancouver-Whitehorse route to its roster, offering daily flights over the summer.
Travellers will pay as little as $99 (plus fees and taxes) for the privilege of a one-way trip.
The news had barely landed when both Air North and Air Canada had slashed their prices to match the newcomer.
Consumers, for the most part, are elated.
At least at first blush.
No matter their airline of choice, they can enjoy a summer of jet-setting, thanks to cheap seats.
Trip planning kicked into overdrive.
It’s also more than a little flattering just knowing another major Canadian company believes in the territory or is pretending to, anyways. Just like when the big-box franchises first took an interest in Whitehorse.
But not everyone is revelling in the deal of a decade.
If the Yukon News Facebook page is any indication, many northerners have real misgivings about the possible consequences of WestJet’s announcement.
Number one on their minds: What if it hurts their beloved Air North.
The “little airline that could” was built from the runway up by local pilot/hero Joe Sparling beginning in the 1970s. Since then it’s grown, taking on partners including the Vuntut Gwitchin Development Corporation and nearly 600 Yukon shareholders.
Now a prominent employer and corporate contributor, it’s near and dear to many northerners.
In typical Sparling fashion, he’s doing his best to put a positive spin on the WestJet news. It is, after all, Air North’s 35th anniversary today and nobody wants to spoil the party.
Sparling insists this is simply a battle of the Titans – WestJet and Air Canada – and Air North is not the target in this game of financial chicken.
That could be, but it’s going to have to play even if it doesn’t want to.
That’s how competition works, and it will put all three companies to the test.
WestJet made a similar move several years ago in the N.W.T. One spring it started seasonal, daily flights between Edmonton and Yellowknife to test the market. It did so well it decided to stay and now operates all year round.
Whether it can repeat that success in the Yukon remains to be seen.
We’ll all find out when the music stops in the fall.