Canadian North suddenly scraps some Norman Wells flights

Norman Wells' airport in June 2020
Norman Wells' airport in June 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Northern tour operators say the sudden cancellation of some Canadian North services is having a significant impact on their guests.

The airline appears to be scrapping Tuesday, Friday and Saturday flights to and from Norman Wells from June onward. While there has been no formal announcement, travellers began receiving cancellation notices on Tuesday night.

Canadian North recently received federal approval to reduce the service it provides to northern communities, the CBC reported. Whether the reduction in Norman Wells flights is a direct consequence of that approval was not immediately clear.

Jackpine Paddle, a canoe and kayak adventure company based in Yellowknife, has already heard from multiple clients affected by the changes.



Jackpine owner Dan Wong said around 40 people booked on tours this summer are affected.

“Two of our trips are supposed to leave Norman Wells on a Friday, both with people coming from all over North America,” he told Cabin Radio.

“Now it’s a question of: can I reschedule boat shuttles and all those trip logistics? Maybe. Can all their personal schedules and other flight bookings change? It’s a big ask.”

Even if all of this year’s guests can come up with solutions, Wong worries about the longer-term impact on tourism. Many travellers rely on multiple connecting flights to get to northern destinations. Days with no flights in a community like Norman Wells could make travel less desirable and mean more nights in hotels.



To cancel flights this close to summer with no notice is unfair, said Wong, and doesn’t take into consideration what these trips mean to people.

“It would be helpful in the long run if [Canadian North] can realize that when people book trips of a lifetime, it’s a big deal for them,” he said.

“They plan a long time in advance, sometimes they save up money for years to come and do one of our adventures, so it does have an impact when there are flight changes.”

NWT minister expresses frustration

Mayor of Norman Wells Frank Pope, reached by phone on Wednesday, said he had been given no notice of the changes to the town’s schedule. Other residents writing online expressed concern about the impact on medical travel with fewer flights to and from Yellowknife.

Canadian North had no immediate comment on the alterations. Its owner recently said it was “losing millions,” though managers have since declined to elaborate on that statement.

The airline is not the only operator in Norman Wells – North-Wright Airways is based in the town – but the reduction in service still aggravated Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT minister responsible for both aviation and tourism.

Writing on Facebook, Wawzonek said she was disappointed that Canadian North was scrapping some Norman Wells flights “barely 48 hours” after receiving permission from federal transport minister Omar Alghabra to reduce services and raise prices.

“Would be great for the federal transport minister to come back to the NWT and see the challenge this creates for residents who are air travel dependent in the five Sahtu communities, not to mention huge impacts to tourism operators who are now left scrambling,” Wawzonek wrote.



“Makes it hard to celebrate Tourism Week,” she added, referring to a promotional campaign for tourism across Canada that is taking place this week.

‘They’re doing their darnedest’

Lin Ward, owner of Canoe North, said around 30 of the Norman Wells-based tour operator’s clients are affected.

“Last night, it was after hours and I’m getting all these emails coming in from people, not knowing what to do,” she said.

“We’re not a company that sits and waits to see what happens, we take action and we come up with possibilities – but this is a bit different, and I don’t think it’s very nice for our clients to have the anxiety they’re getting as well.”

Ward said she hopes Canadian North will work out a way to accommodate passengers affected by the changes. She said she had spoken with representatives of the airline and feels reassured that the company is doing what it can to fix the issue.

“They have a list of everyone that is affected by this, and I think they’re doing their darnedest to find a way to make it work for everybody,” said Ward.

“It’s not a great thing, that’s for sure, but I know they’re taking the steps that need to happen to stick with us, and not leave us or our clients dangling at this point.”

Wong also hopes the company will recognize the impact the cancellations have and restore some flights to the schedule. Until then, he is unsure what to do.

“I hope they just didn’t understand the implications and they’ll then be reasonable, and either delay the changes or accommodate on at least certain key dates,” he said.

“These flights are crucial components to complicated itineraries that take people from downtown New York to the heart of the Mackenzie mountains, and I’m optimistic that they can see that and we can figure this out.”