'We get it.' Canadian North acknowledges merger concerns

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The newly merged Canadian North said it was contemplating a revised Yellowknife-Edmonton schedule as the airline acknowledged fears of a northern air travel monopoly.

Canadian North and First Air's reservation systems, websites, and ticket and cargo counters are all set to be merged in the coming months. The groups controlling the two airlines finalized the merger into a single entity in July.

Andrew Pope, Canadian North's vice-president of customer and commercial, told Cabin Radio the airline is committed to "an experience that's second-to-none with a unique, northern flair."

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Pope acknowledged, however, that – despite strict federally imposed conditions on how the airline sets its prices and schedules for the next seven years – some northern residents are convinced the new-look Canadian North, holding an effective monopoly over many routes, will rip them off.

"The first thing I want to say is that we do get that, we understand that," said Pope. "We acknowledge those concerns and we don’t dismiss them at all. We understand that people are nervous about what this means.

"We hope that, over time, through our actions and through the way that we approach the integration project, we’ll win people over."

Jobs are set to be lost as the two staffs merge, though Canadian North was not able to provide the number of positions likely to be affected.

Since the merger was first announced, focus has fallen largely on its consequences for remote, northern travel. However, Canadian North is also assessing what to do with its Yellowknife-Edmonton service – a route where Air Canada and WestJet are in direct competition.

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“If we can make it work, it makes sense for our departures to not be on top of one another," said Pope, analyzing the existing schedules under which First Air and Canadian North flights often depart just minutes apart.

Pope said the new, merged airline was contemplating an evening southbound departure from Yellowknife "or splitting the departure times more from Edmonton, to offer a bit more choice for our travelling customers."

Chris Avery, the chief executive of Canadian North, urged passengers to "give us a try" on the Edmonton route, saying he would work on a "unique customer experience" to offset the perceived advantages of the broader networks offered by Air Canada and WestJet.

“If we don’t continue to offer great service and competitive schedules and airfares, we’ll find ourselves out of those marketplaces in the future,” said Pope.

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