Airlines are adjusting prices and adding capacity to help with evacuation efforts in Yellowknife.
WestJet and Air Canada both said they are taking steps to avoid elevated prices, adding extra flights and swapping in bigger planes amid the rapidly unfolding situation up north.
Residents of Yellowknife and two nearby First Nations have been ordered out by noon Friday while crews fight fires that have already forced thousands to evacuate.
WestJet has added an extra recovery flight scheduled for Thursday between Yellowknife and Calgary, and added larger aircraft to operate previously scheduled flights between the cities, spokeswoman Julia Kaiser said in an email.
WestJet has adjusted fare classes to avoid price escalation and has announced flexible guidelines for changes and cancellations for all guests travelling to Yellowknife between Aug. 17 and 22, Kaiser said.
The airline has also increased its limits on pets in cabins so more guests can bring pets onboard and proactively cancelled six flights on Friday and Saturday, she said.
Meanwhile, Air Canada has placed a cap on fares for direct flights from Yellowknife, said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.
He acknowledged some social media posts saying fares were hiked amid the emergency but said they are not correct. Some of the screenshots of particularly high fares show “complex itineraries involving multiple flights, and sometimes multiple carriers, rather than direct flights out,” he said.
Air Canada added two extra flights, bringing Thursday’s total to four, said Fitzpatrick. One flight, coming from Vancouver, will use a bigger aircraft, making use of a 169-seat Boeing 737 instead of a 76-seat regional jet.
Another 737 flight is being added for Friday, and the airline is evaluating opportunities for extra flights, said Fitzpatrick. No flights are currently planned to Yellowknife on Saturday, he said.
“At this point, flights for the next few days are completely full, but we are monitoring the situation and will adjust our schedule as we can. We have also put in a goodwill policy for customers to change their flights booked for travel up to August 30, or to obtain a refund,” he said.
Canadian North, which primarily services Nunavut, Nunavik and the Northwest Territories, has been conducting evacuation flights since Monday. The airline is allowing passengers to bring pets in cabins and travel without ID if necessary due to the emergency situation, said spokeswoman Annie Tomlinson in a statement.
The airline is prioritizing evacuation flights and adjusting its regular flight schedules as needed, said Tomlinson, with commercial flights to and from the Yellowknife airport being cancelled starting tomorrow while aircraft are reassigned to evacuation efforts.
All customers affected by these cancellations are eligible for complimentary rebooking or a full refund, she said, and anyone on a cancelled commercial flight who still has to leave Yellowknife needs to join the current evacuation process.