As summer travel season looms, Nunavut airlines start price war
“We’ve received a pricing challenge and we have to respond to it"
It’s only mid-April, but many in Nunavut are scrambling to book their summer vacation travel south.
Travellers hope to take advantage of some of the cheapest airfares that Iqaluit-Ottawa route flyers have seen in years, with one-way flights as low at $399.
The rush started late in the day April 18, when the territory’s newest air service, Go Sarvaq, announced it was open for bookings on its new Ottawa-Iqaluit-Halifax route.
The Inuit-owned, Iqaluit-based company is offering an introductory fare of $499 one-way on a limited number of seats between its inaugural flight date — May 20 — until the end of August.
Within hours, Nunavut’s two other major airlines, First Air and Canadian North, both owned by Inuit birthright corporations located outside of Nunavut, followed suit, but took their own sale a step further by offering one-way seats between Ottawa and Iqaluit for $399 during that same period.
Some Nunavut flyers jumped at the low fares, but many others accused the airlines of trying to undercut new business and important competition in the territory’s airline industry.
“They’re trying to push to the new service in town [because] they know that now is the crucial time for Sarvaq,” wrote a poster to an Iqaluit Facebook group.
“Everyone should book Sarvaq now and secure healthy competition in the airline industry for the future.”
But the other airlines said they’re just trying to remain competitive going into the busy summer travel season.
“We’re constantly monitoring pricing in our markets and we’re going to quickly respond to any challenges from our competition whenever appropriate,” said Kelly Lewis, spokesperson for Canadian North.
“We’ve received a pricing challenge and we have to respond to it. If we were to stand idly by, we’d let others determine what the market pricing is and we’d risk losing bookings,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
At First Air, vice president Bert van der Stege, said even without Go Sarvaq’s entry in the market, the airline has had a competitor on the Ottawa-Iqaluit route for a long time.
“As always, we will continue to offer competitive pricing in every market we serve and that includes the Ottawa-Iqaluit route,” van der Stege told Nunatsiaq News in an email.
“This is not the first seat sale we have and it won’t be the last.”
First Air and Canadian North have been operating a codeshare agreement since last July that sees flights operated by either company jointly marketed by both airlines.
But the codeshare is under review by the federal Competition Bureau, following complaints filed by the Government of Nunavut and the City of Iqaluit, which say the deal has created a monopoly and resulted in increasingly poor service.
To respond to First Air and Canadian North’s latest seat sale, Go Sarvaq is polling its customers online to see if they prefer steady sale prices of $499, or cheaper fares of $399 with less flexibility and availability.