Don’t blame the Town for the greed of big airliners

It’s easy (but wrong) to scapegoat Smithers Regional Airport for high ticket prices

I hate flying. I don’t have a phobia or anything, I just really dislike everything about planes. The cramped spaces. The crying babies.

The ridiculously small bags of peanuts which I have to awkwardly ask the flight attendant for seconds (not so bad), thirds (getting there) and fourths (yikes) of.

Last (but definitely not least) is the cost.

I could write an entire column about how greedy it is that an industry manipulates its prices around family-centric holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving (or how sad it is money remains the largest barrier to family members who live far away seeing each other over the holidays).

It doesn’t change the fact the high prices we pay to fly out of Smithers have nothing to do with the Town, as I’ve seen many people suggesting on social media.

True, the Town recently raised its airport improvement fee (AIF) from $25 to $30 after a report to council suggested without the change Smithers Regional Airport (YYD) operations would eat into the YYD’s surplus fund.

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But while YYD’s AIF is something the airport actually sets, when it comes to actual airfare, YYD has about as much say regarding how much tickets cost as you do over how much Tim Hortons charges for your daily double-double.

I get it, you’re mad — I am too — but it’s important to get mad at the right people: in this case, Air Canada.

Say you’re selling something: could be lemonade, could be candy, could be furniture. If you are the only lemonade maker in town, you can charge more than if there are three lemonade makers on every street because people who want lemonade know you’re the only one who makes it. In essence, the price you set is the price people have to pay.

That crash course into free market economics is highly simplified, however, the same runs true with air travel. When YYD only has one truly cross-country airline running out of their location, that same airline gets to call the shots (and, more importantly, set the prices).

All you have to do is look at the numbers. Comparing Nov. 7 prices on the evening of Nov. 6, it costs $1,079 to fly to Vancouver from Smithers and return on the same day.

Not only is that same two-way ticket cheaper in Terrace ($832, $848 and $850 are the cheapest prices listed), there’s also much more selection regarding when your flight leaves and returns.

Again, there is no massive conspiracy on the part of YYD to keep prices high. They have absolutely zero control over how much Air Canada decides to charge for tickets.

Let’s also not ignore the elephant in the room: WestJet. You’d have to assume that WestJet knows if it were to come into YYD and start offering flights that Air Canada would drop it’s prices, which begs the question: why haven’t they yet?

I expect it boils down to the same topic of this column: costs.

I might be wrong, but I expect WestJet has run the numbers and decided the amount of money they make operating out of just Terrace and not Smithers — with the knowledge that because prices in the former are so much cheaper, residents of the latter will make their way out there — provides them with more revenue than they would make if they also operated out of Smithers and had to deal with the additional overhead costs.

Think about it this way, the conventional frugal wisdom in the Bulkley Valley is already to go to Terrace if you want to fly more economically. With that in mind, what motivation does WestJet have to set up shop in Smithers when they’re already getting their clientele despite not paying YYD landing and terminal fees?

Answer: about as much as Air Canada has to lower their prices at YYD when there are no other (fully) cross-country carriers running out of it.

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So this Christmas when you’re grumbling over the extra $200 you paid to fly out of YYD (or the time and money it took you to get to Terrace just to save a few bucks) remember getting mad at YYD or the Town is exactly what the big airliners want you to do.

But we shouldn’t let it fly anymore.



trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com

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