Travel restrictions are forcing travellers to fly, many can't afford it

'Air bridge' too expensive?

British Columbia travellers find themselves in the middle of a "perfect storm" of challenges as we enter the Christmas season.

Historic rain in mid-November caused flooding that washed away multiple highway sections, in essence cutting off the B.C. Interior and Lower Mainland to all but essential travel.

Concerns have been raised about the cost of flying between the B.C. Interior and Vancouver.

Big White Resort senior V.P. Micheal Ballingall says he's been pressing government officials for solutions, "as you can obviously imagine, we are experiencing a high volume of cancellations for Christmas/New Years."

Ballingall says Christmas bookings are down significantly in part because many families simply cannot afford to fly to Kelowna at this time of year.

"We’re hearing from customers that have booked flights for their kids to come to the Okanagan Valley to join them at Big White, and it’s $800 a fare. For a family of three, that’s $2,400 to fly to Kelowna from Vancouver,” he said.

B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Monday there are concerns about price gouging by airlines, but noted it is a federally-regulated industry.

Kelowna airport director Sam Samaddar says he has heard similar complaints, but price increases around Christmas and other holidays isn't new.

"Typically as you get closer to Christmas prices are higher, that's always been there, but if people are booking a week or two out they're going to pay higher prices that's just the way the algorithms work," Samaddar said.

Air Canada's media department responded to our request for information with, "here is what we have on aircanada.com right now for the Christmas week between Kelowna and Vancouver, fares one-way are in the $288-$361 range. That is also inclusive of all taxes/fees. Note that many flights are already sold out."

A quick search Wednesday at 2 p.m. found that most flights were indeed sold out.

Air Canada says it did add capacity, 1,500 seats, to the Kelowna and Kamloops markets after the floods hit in November. The airline says those fares were capped.

WestJet made similar adjustments and its ultra low-fare airline Swoop has added flights from Kelowna to Abbotsford, available during the Christmas season, for between $79 and $199 depending on dates.

WestJet, P.R. manager Morgan Bell says those prices will be capped through to January 9.

BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett praised Swoop for adding those flights, but said more should be done.

“There is a coalition of tourism and hospitality businesses – ski resorts, airlines, airports, the BC Hotel Association, the Tourism Industry Association of BC – that are working on connecting Vancouver and Abbotsford to Kelowna. It has the central airport in the Interior and we want to have added flights, providing competitive pricing, and using larger planes," she said.

with files from Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver

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