The airline Canadian North is investigating suggestions in the NWT legislature that passengers requiring medical travel south have been unable to fly as planned.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said on Tuesday that since Canadian North and First Air merged to form one airline, "our cancer patients and medical travel patients have been having a really tough time getting out of Inuvik."
The merged airline's first "unified schedule," which began operating in November, provides one daily departure from Inuvik to Yellowknife. There had previously been two on most days.
"I am calling out the airline," said Jacobson, who represents the communities of Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, Tuktoyaktuk, and Sachs Harbour.
"It's pretty dire," he continued. "Since the last two months we've been here [at the legislature], I've been travelling on that [flight] 14 times. Every time, you're seeing somebody in the airport actually being physically taken off the flight, being removed."
Diane Thom, the health minister, denied any medical travel passengers were being unfairly treated. She characterized the issue as one where staff were struggling to arrange adequate travel at short notice.
"People are not getting bumped," Thom told Jacobson. "There are unrealistic expectations that people travelling on medical travel can somehow bump other paying passengers on an oversubscribed flight."
Thom said her department was working to ensure enough time is allowed for travel to be booked without the risk of missing specialist appointments.
Nevertheless, Canadian North spokesperson Dan Valin said the airline was looking into the matter.
"We are currently investigating reports of 'bumped passengers' and will work with our partners at the GNWT to ensure we offer a service that meets the needs of the communities we serve," Valin said by email.
"We understand that we provide an essential service and that the timely movement of medical travel passengers is a priority."
Thom did not directly respond to Jacobson's request for a meeting with Canadian North to be convened regarding the issue. She did, however, say the department was doing its best to work with the airline and ensure medical travel isn't disrupted.
"Please bear with us as we work to improve medical travel and make it easier on you to meet your medical needs," Thom told residents. "There will be hiccups along the way, and we ask for your understanding."