When people complain about the north pretty much the top of the list is the cost of flying here and out. Everything that is expensive about the north – food, building materials, supplies – spring outs from how much it costs to simply move people and things from the south to the north. If there’s a solution to this problem a great number of smart people have spent a lot of years unsuccessfully trying to figure it out.
That means there’s now an informal social contract between northerners and the airlines. It goes something like this.
1. We are going to bitch and complain incessantly about how much it costs to fly here and to transport food and be more than a little suspicious that you are somehow finding a way to gouge us silly, although there is ample proof that’s not the case. We’re also probably going to remain loyal to both of you (Canadian North and First Air) even when another airline comes into the market (Hello Air Canada’s doomed attempt a few years ago) for…reasons.
2. In return, northern airlines will agree to the following.
a. Offer up seat sales several times a year so that people rarely actually pay the $2,000 return flight to Ottawa, and instead end up paying something closer to $1,300.
b. Offer up discounts to pretty much every major employer in the city. That includes Government of Nunavut civil servants, teachers, nurses, federal employees, Inuit organizations, etc.
c. Offer discount fares to beneficiaries.
d. Give away probably hundreds of plane tickets a year for various charity fundraisers or sports tournaments. I know the curling club routinely gets anywhere from 4-7 tickets per year.
e. Give us half decent meals on the flights, along with “special coffees”.
f. Give us 2 pieces of luggage which can hold up to 70 pounds each, so that when we’re coming back north, we can stuff it with extra supplies.
If you break this contract, there will be consequences.
Canadian North decided to test things earlier this year. They broke the social contract and dropped the baggage allowance down to 50 pounds per bag. The reason given is that this brought them more in line with how things are done with other airlines in North America. I believe Canadian also has an agreement with Westjet where you can check your bags straight through to your final destination instead of picking them up in Ottawa and having to check in again. WestJet probably wasn’t enjoying having to deal with these extra heavy bags and not getting some extra money for it.
Let’s say Canadian North’s plan did not fly well. I’m reasonably active on Twitter and to say there were howls of outrage would be an understatement. The other indicator of outrage and frothing-at-the-mouth in Nunavut is Nunatsiaq News comments section. Reaction there was, if anything, even more extreme.
I’m not sure what Canadian North thought would happen with this. That people would hate it, sure. But I guess they must have thought First Air would jump at the chance to lower their baggage allowance and follow suit. The two airlines are practically peas on a pod. When one announces a seat sale, the other matches it…often within minutes.
So when Canadian North lowered baggage allowances, First Air did…nothing. For days, nothing. Then they announced a pretty nice seat sale, just to put the extra screws to Canadian North. So, for a pleasant change of pace, there was actually some competition for customers in the north. I still think most people expected First Air to sweat Canadian for a few weeks and then lower their allowance as well.
But it never happened. I went to the airport to pick up Cathy (she was down south for some professional development). Canadian landed first and a trickle of passengers disembarked. First Air landed about 10 minutes later. Easily double, maybe triple, the number of people got off the plane. I imagine that was just a snapshot of what they’d been dealing with since their baggage policy went into effect on February 1.
So on Thursday, in a reversal of policy, Canadian brought back the old baggage limit. I’m always glad to see customers punishing businesses when they do something like this. Pity more people didn’t take this step when US and other Canadian airlines began doing this kind of thing with baggage. Then again, that’s a much more complex issue than what we face here.
The other interesting thing Canadian did yesterday was announce a new weekly flight: Iqaluit-Halifax-St. John’s. There’s a sizeable east coast population in Iqaluit so that news was greeted warmly. Granted, I don’t think it will save much, if any money. But it will save time and be convenient. If it does well, they’ll expand it past its once a week during the summer event. That would be nice. I don’t think you could do it daily, but twice a week, all year round…I think that could be manageable.
I mentioned to friends and family in Newfoundland they can come for a visit now. They pointed out the flight is still over $2,000. So I guess they don't love us quite that much.
People have short memories for this kind of thing, so I imagine Canadian will be forgiven, and offering up the east coast flight will more than soothe some frayed tempers. But it was interesting to watch while it was going on…
1. Desire - Ryan Adams
2. So distant - Matt Mays
3. The book I write - Spoon
4. I could say - Lily Allen
5. Up on Cripple Creek - The Band