Cheaper flights also needed in the north

Michael Johansen
Published on June 23, 2014

Congratulations St. John’s on your new Westjet flight to Dublin!

As more than 11,000 travellers already know, Westjet’s prices are extraordinarily low. The last available seat for this weekend would have cost $383.01 for the four-hour, 15-minute flight. The lowest price offered by Air Canada the same day is $2,238. That’s one way and it’s the opposite of direct. You first fly westwards to Toronto and the trip lasts 14 hours and 55 minutes. You can save money by avoiding Air Canada’s website to book with an Internet travel agency: Expedia could get you to Dublin for $1,830.59 by putting you on Air Canada only from St. John’s to London, England. An Aer Lingus plane takes you the short hop to Ireland. That flight saves time as well as money, since it only takes eight-and-a-half hours.

No wonder Newfoundlanders are overjoyed to see reasonable prices for their travel options. Labradorians would celebrate, too, if they had reason. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Currently, the cheapest fare from YYR (Goose Bay) to DUB is still more than $2,000, although surprisingly the leg from Labrador to Newfoundland adds only $15 to the total. I’m tempted to offer Air Canada that $15 to St. John’s so I can then catch the Westjet flight, but Air Canada won’t go for it.

The company wants at least $552 to carry me to the island, which would still save more than $1,000 and spare seven hours of travel time, but I’d wait 11 hours in St. John’s before continuing on my way. For the same Goose Bay-to-St. John’s price I could while away the time in the air instead of on the ground, taking Air Canada’s 11-hour, 16-minute option to change planes first in Gander and then Halifax before flying north again. By paying extra (totalling $1,159) I could get to St. John’s by changing flights in Deer Lake first and then Halifax, but that takes more than 17 hours. I would miss my Westjet connection. Another option is available: Provincial Airlines flies to St. John’s for between $519 and $783, but that highest-priced flight includes a five-hour layover in Deer Lake.

So, I won’t go to Dublin this weekend — not unless Westjet brings something to Labrador that hasn’t been seen here for the decades since Canadian Pacific still flew the Canadian skies: real competition. On New Year’s Eve 1990, when seats were in high demand and prices at their peak, I paid $650 for a return ticket from Ottawa to Happy Valley-Goose Bay on a CP jet that took less than two hours to make the flight.

Now that CP Air is a memory, travellers can only take this route with Air Canada and its prices range from just under $900 to over $1,000. The quickest flight lasts three hours and 50 minutes, but one (the most expensive) takes more than 20 hours. Air Canada offers one flight that costs a few dollars less than what CP used to charge, but “this option requires an overnight stay between connecting flights.” Soon after CP Air’s demise I took Air Canada from Ottawa to Goose Bay and although I don’t remember how much it cost, or how long it took, I do recall changing planes in Toronto, Halifax and Deer Lake.

Accustomed to paying high prices

Labradorians have long been accustomed to paying high prices for travel to destinations both outside and within the region. One of the shortest scheduled flights (15 minutes between Hopedale and Makkovik) costs $158.20 on Air Labrador and $164 on PAL. The one-and-a-half hour flight between Goose Bay and Nain (if the plane doesn’t stop at Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale and Natuashish first) costs $497.20 on Lab Air and $514 on Provincial.

Prices like that suppress a person’s urge to fly within Labrador, but the situation actually becomes insulting when Labradorians try to travel abroad. For instance, if I want to fly from Goose Bay to Bangkok it costs $3,479.79 to go through Halifax and London. However, if I was to start in Halifax it only costs $1,287.22 — meaning that Air Canada charges $2,192.57 to carry someone from Labrador to Nova Scotia.

So Westjet: please come north! Competition might not eliminate insane prices, but it couldn’t hurt.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in North West River, Labrador