Claire Wilson, Vancouver | December 17, 2021
WestJet, Air Canada and smaller airlines say that during the holiday period they’ll offer more flights at capped prices into areas of British Columbia that have become difficult to access owing to last month’s devastating floods.
Flying is one of the few options for people wanting to get between the Lower Mainland and the province’s Interior as the Coquihalla and Trans-Canada highways have been closed for weeks and Highway 3 is open only to essential trucking traffic.
Andy Gibbons, vice-president of government relations at WestJet, said the airline’s low-cost carrier, Swoop, will begin service between Abbotsford and Kelowna and the fares will be capped at between $79 and $99 a seat. That is roughly the price of what a Greyhound bus ticket once was between the two cities, Mr. Gibbons said.
“We listened to the concerns of the residents of British Columbia and the government and we established a new flight from Abbotsford to Kelowna,” he said. “That’s a significant investment, and we’re proud to do it and we’re more than pleased to support the communities that are having difficulty.”
The Westjet flight will be available three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays until Jan. 9.
Air Canada said it is adding capacity on its existing routes. The airline has finalized plans for additional seats on flights between Kelowna and Kamloops for the peak holiday travel period, spokesperson Angela Mah said.
Air Canada is putting a price cap on economy fares between the two cities but declined to give specifics. Based on online prices, tickets in economy class range from $250 to $340.
Between Vancouver and Kelowna, Air Canada is using a larger aircraft on some flights to provide an extra 637 seats between Dec. 16 and Dec. 28, Ms. Mah said. Between Kamloops and Calgary, the airline has ensured an extra 156 seats on Dec. 21 and Dec. 23.
“Our schedule was planned in advance to meet expected demand, and our fleet and resources have been fully deployed across both Air Canada mainline and Air Canada Express networks,” she said.
Smaller airlines including Air North, Central Mountain Air and Pacific Coastal Airlines have all added additional flights, making it an industrywide effort. B.C. Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the government has been working with the airlines to increase flight capacity and keep fares low on routes to the Interior.
“We know many people were looking forward to travel during the holiday season, especially after this very challenging year,” she said in a statement.
On Monday, provincial Transportation Minister Rob Fleming told a briefing that the Coquihalla Highway – damaged in 20 places over 130 kilometres – could potentially reopen for commercial travel weeks earlier than anticipated, the result of repairs that have sped up the movement of construction equipment and workers along the corridor.
He said the initial target to complete temporary repairs and reopen the highway was the end of January. That was moved up to early January, and may now be even sooner, depending on weather. On Monday, Mr. Fleming said it was too soon to know whether it might reopen in time for holiday travel.
A full update on the Coquihalla is expected on Wednesday. Should it reopen to commercial traffic, Highway 3 could reopen to the general public, finally allowing for travel between the Lower Mainland and B.C.’s Interior.
Sam Samaddar, director of the Kelowna International Airport, is seeing a revitalization in economic areas that had been suspended by the flooding. He said the effort to get more travellers to the Interior has increased opportunities for both business and tourism.
“We understand the predicament that certainly British Columbia is in,” Mr. Samaddar said. “Where people would normally travel by road to get to our ski hills, for example, in the Interior, that has been cut off. So you know, these are other opportunities provided to those people.”