Air North puts on brave face as COVID-19 rocks airline industry

Mar 25, 2020

Photo: Air North

Air North president Joe Sparling expects to see about a 35 per cent drop in the number of passengers this month, compared to last March. April may be worse.

The President of Yukon’s Air North says the COVID-19 pandemic has created an “unprecedented set of circumstances” for his airline, but says the company will get through it.

“Without a doubt, we’re going to be operating on a smaller scale for at least a period of time. We don’t know how long that’s going to go on, and we don’t know how small we’re going to have to get,” Joe Sparling said. “There’s adjustments being made every day, and you know we’re doing our best to communicate with passengers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a “cataclysmic” impact on airlines around the world. International fleets are being grounded and domestic routes restricted.

Air Canada is set to lay off more than 5,100 members of its cabin crews because of a dramatic drop in flights. The company has suspended dozens of routes across Canada and the U.S. for the coming weeks, including some to Yellowknife. Air Canada’s flights to Whitehorse will continue, however.

Sparling is also preparing for rough days ahead. He said his airline has seen a “flurry of traffic” recently as some Yukoners still opt to travel for spring break and others return from abroad. He expects that to wind down in the coming days, but can’t predict much beyond that.

“We’re just watching the bookings every day. I can tell you that for the last week or so, we’ve been processing more cancellations than we have new bookings — by a long shot.”

Sparling expects to see about a 35 per cent drop in the number of passengers this month, compared to last March. April may be worse.

“It’s probably going to be a more telling statistic and we don’t have a handle on that one quite yet,” he said.

Sparling did not say whether he expects to lay off any Air North staff. He said Thursday that he has a few employees now in self-isolation and unable to come to work.

“But we’re also decreasing the number of flights that we operate so you know, right now one is kind of paralleling the other,” he said.

Photo: Air North

Keeping planes clean and sanitized

Sparling said his airline is taking other measures to ensure passengers are safe. He says crew have stepped up efforts to keep cabins clean and sanitized. Earlier this week, the airline removed blankets, pillows, magazines and brochures from all planes.

As a pilot, Sparling is also keeping the cockpit door closed more often, and says flight crew may be interacting less with passengers.

“It’s always nice to be able to get out and say goodbye to everybody, but [we] might have to do a little bit less of that,” he said.

The airline is also considering changes to in-flight service, such as cancelling the meal service. Sparling says they’re evaluating “anything and everything.”

He’s not too worried about the long-term though, saying Air North is in good shape to weather the storm.

“Nobody knows how long this is going to go on… But you know, we’re gonna get through it.”

(News Source: CBC News with files from Mike Rudyk)