Air Canada Inc. has added the equivalent of 31 Airbus A320 jets to its Alberta capacity to accommodate Fort McMurray evacuees who want to return home to Atlantic Canada or elsewhere.
The airline, which was chastised on social media last week for charging inflated fares to people fleeing the wildfire, is doing what it can to help those who were displaced, CEO Calin Rovinescu told the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Halifax Tuesday.
“We’re executing a plan to transport those fleeing from the fires from Edmonton or Calgary to their destinations and to support relief efforts,” he said.
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“To date, we’ve already added the equivalent of about 31 of our A320s or about 11 of our Boeing 777 aircraft — our largest aircraft — to assist with getting people home, and we will continue to monitor demand to ensure mobile workers from Alberta can get home from Edmonton or Calgary at our very lowest fares.”
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline is “adding capacity daily to meet the demand,” and has opened a separate counter in the Edmonton International Airport with additional staff to accommodate passengers travelling as a result of the fire.
The vast majority of additional capacity is on the Edmonton-Toronto route, but the airline has also added additional seats to Montreal, Vancouver and from Toronto to Atlantic Canada, Fitzpatrick said.
Until the Fort McMurray wildfire created a surge in demand, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. had actually been reducing capacity in Alberta and redeploying it elsewhere due to the weak economy.
Rovinescu’s comments are the first he has made since the company was criticized for charging exorbitant fares to evacuees. One person posted a screenshot on Twitter showing a $4,059 day-of fare for a flight from Edmonton to Sydney, N.S.
However, Air Canada said the high fares were due to its computerized revenue management system, which automatically adjusts prices to maximize revenue. In normal circumstances, people who book last-minute flights are often business travellers and willing to pay more.
The airline says it is contacting people who bought last-minute tickets to adjust the price to the lowest advance fare and refund the difference.
“We’re ensuring the lowest advance fares remain available for all passengers travelling as a result of the wildfires,” Fitzpatrick said. “As well, change fees, baggage fees, bike, pet fees (and) hunting equipment fees are all waived.”
WestJet Airlines Ltd. has not yet increased its capacity in Alberta but is keeping an eye on demand, said spokeswoman Lauren Stewart.
“We haven’t been able to see any particular patterns yet,” she said. “It may be a little bit early still to see people that have been evacuated wanting to go back to the Atlantic or to Ontario.”
WestJet has provided aircraft and crews to fly approximately 5,600 people out of the oilsands camps north of Fort McMurray, she said. Those chartered flights were paid for by Suncor Energy Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell plc.
The airline has also lowered fares out of Edmonton and Calgary to about two-thirds of the normal price and is offering a 25 per cent discount code for flights out of Edmonton and Fort McMurray once the airport there reopens, Stewart said.
In addition, WestJet has relaxed its identification requirements for people who fled without proper ID.