Starting next summer, it will be cheaper for Newfoundland residents to fly to Europe than to fly across their own province.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial government has put up its own money to convince WestJet to offer a direct flight from St. John’s to London, U.K., starting April 2024.
That flight — which costs about $1,000 for a return trip — will be slightly cheaper than a flight from St. John’s to Wabush, a mining town on the Labrador-Quebec border.
Jordan Brown, an NDP politician who represents Wabush and the surrounding area in Newfoundland and Labrador’s House of Assembly, said at peak times, his constituents are sometimes paying $1,800 to get to the capital city.
He said others are making sacrifices because they can’t afford that hefty price.
“I know people who’ve said, ‘I can’t make it to this funeral, I just don’t have this money on hand right now,’” he said. “People are making sacrifices from actually saying goodbye to loved ones, or not making it to special occasions, events, milestone anniversaries.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial government does offer a program that will subsidize the cost of medical travel, but Brown wants it to do more to tackle transportation costs inside the province — including more investigation as to what’s driving up prices in the first place.
“Year over year, for the last number of years, we’ve seen fares constantly rising,” he said.
Brown said his community is hurting because of the high fees.
“Labrador West is home to two Olympic curlers, but we can’t bring any competitive curling into Labrador West because of the high cost of travel. Same with hockey, same with any sporting events.”
Jordan Brown is the MHA for Labrador West in Newfoundland and Labrador’s House of Assembly. (Source: Newfoundland and Labrador NDP)
Both the provincial government and the St. John’s Airport Authority said in statements they couldn’t disclose the details of the agreement with WestJet because of what the airport authority called the “commercial sensitivity and (the) highly competitive nature of air service.”
The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation said overall, the provincial government has offered almost $4 million to airports to help them attract certain airlines and routes. It added the agreement with WestJet contains clauses that will reduce the overall public spending if the flight is popular.
The prices in Wabush have gotten so high that resident Phil Poirier said he’s basically given up flying in or out of the community.
Poirier said in a message that he’s tried to invite his friends to visit the local ski hill in April, but they usually decide to head west to British Columbia instead, because it’s either cheaper or similar.
Dave Hurley, co-owner of a brewery in Labrador City, said he’d like the provincial government to follow the example of Québec, and introduce increased subsidies for rural residents to fly to bigger centres.
Certain Québec residents can fly from rural airports to Montréal, Saint-Hubert or Québec City for $250 each way.
As it stands, Hurley said, even relatively routine trips with his family — or for his business — are out of reach.
“We’ve got employees that we’d love to send to St. John’s for craft beer festivals and to network and collaborate with other brewers,” he said. “We’re unable to do that. … We’re actually going to send our employees now to Hamilton, Ont., for the Canadian Beer Awards, because it’s actually cheaper.”