Flight Comparison: Air North or Air Canada – who should you fly with to the Yukon in Canada’s North?

Not to be confused with the airline of the same name from Australia’s Top End, Canadian airline Air North has been taking passengers to the Provence of Yukon since 1977, first as a Charter airline and then servicing passengers from the 1980s. This month I flew with them for the first time, travelling on a two hour journey from Yukon’s capital Whitehorse to Vancouver – having flown earlier that week on the opposite route with Air Canada.

The cost of the ticket was almost identical, but one airline truly impressed with their inclusive offerings. So which airline was it? And who should you travel on the route? We tell you everything you need to know here…

Check in Process

Both airlines offer online check in, though unsurprisingly Air Canada has the superior technology behind them, including their app. Air Canada have kiosks and a mountain of places to get assistance at Vancouver International Airport, while in Whitehorse it’s just the one line for customer service and baggage check in, for either airline. It’s a small airport so it’s less about the airline there and more about the facilities at the airport in question.

Flying out of Whitehorse Airport

Flying out on a Sunday morning, the airport restaurant was closed and there wasn’t even food in the vending machines post security. Pre-security there was one store open that had a couple of snacks like granola bars, so get that if you’re hungry! The lounge was comfortable though and there’s charging plugs at the seats, and a water bottle refilling station.

Baggage

With an economy ticket, Air Canada offer complimentary carry on luggage only. Any checked baggage needs to be paid for. Air North offer you two checked bags for free, in addition to the 10kg you can have as carry on. Other than Southwest, I don’t know any other North American airline who offers this. And you can usually have your bags checked through to a Air Canada flight if you have a connection – though I’m not sure what the policy is there in terms of whether or not you need to pay a separate Air Canada baggage fee, as I was flying with carry on only. So have a look into that when you’re booking. It’s a slow moving security line in Whitehorse when they have the bigger 737s, so make sure you give yourself enough time. Without checked baggage you’d want to get there no more than an hour before departure; 90 minutes with checked baggage.

Boarding

Air Canada board by zone number – as it was a smaller flight they did zone 1 and then basically all the other zones all at once, but it was a pretty easy boarding process. Air North, meanwhile, boarded by row, starting with the exit rows, than the back before moving up the aircraft. It was definitely more efficient.

Seat & Comfort

Air Canada flew up to Whitehorse with a 2-2 layout plane, a CR9, while Air North operated a larger 737-400, a much older aircraft (and interestingly their only one in their fleet, the rest are the smaller capacity 737-500s), with a 3-3 layout in economy. In Air Canada, the seats felt recently upgraded, and the screens on the back of the seats worked well, as did the headphone jacks in the armrest and the USB port in the seatback. I had a window seat with Air Canada and an aisle seat with Air North. The seats on Air North were older and more run down, and there was no seat back entertainment. But pillows were available for some extra comfort. Neither seat had a moveable headrest, and both were about equal in comfort; the 737 seeming to have slightly more leg room. The temperature fluctuated more in the older aircraft, however.

On Time?

Air Canada was just about on time, though Air North was delayed 30 minutes on the tarmac due to the sudden snow overnight, so the plane needed to be de-iced. I imagine this is a common occurrence during the winter months. But they’re built for that.

Entertainment

Nothing with Air North, and they ask you to turn your electronic devices off entirely and remove headphones for landing and take off. Air Canada have great in flight entertainment units, with (usually) uncut films and entire TV series. And they don’t seem qualmed by you enjoying the entertainment from gate to gate.

Food and Drink

Across the two hour flight with Air Canada, there were two drink services, with the ability to purchase anything that wasn’t a non-alcoholic beverage. I paid $3.50 for some cashews.

Air North meanwhile blew the Air Canada offering out of the water, with not just complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, including Yukon coffee but the choice of a hot breakfast burrito or a peach yogurt parfait. The burrito was small but hit the spot after having skipped breakfast before the early flight. They did a second drink order as well before the end of the flight. I enjoyed a tea, which they served with a tea bag, rather than pre-brewed tea, whis always preferred.

Routing Options: Where does each airline fly to?

There’s just about nowhere that Air Canada don’t fly, though if it’s anywhere, it’d be the five cities other than Whitehorse that Air North service (Inuvik, Old Crow, Dawson City, Mayo and Watson Lake). These flights are done on the tiny ATR 42-300 and Hawker Siddeley 748 aircraft, which I was told doesn’t have heating. So you need to be prepared to wear snow gear in the winter time. I’m going to take a hard pass on that one. But it does mean you are carrying less stuff I guess!

In spite of only having 10 aircraft in their fleet, Air North have seven destination outside of the Yukon; Yellowknife and Ottawa being seasonal destinations and Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary and Edmonton being year round services.

Final Verdict

The Air North in-flight experience was among the best I’ve had flying economy with a Canadian airline within Canada. There is a feeling with the two biggest airlines in Canada (WestJet and Air Canada) that they’ll cut as much as they can in terms of ticket inclusions to increase profit margins. But here, though they’re using older planes leading to what may be a less comfortable experience for some, and there’s a lack of entertainment, they endeavour to provide a much warmer and inclusive experience – how flying used to be.

Likely in part due to these older aircraft, and lack of things like in flight entertainment, Air North tickets are competitive (even cheaper at times) than their Air Canada counterparts, and offer a lot more. Free baggage, almost unheard of inclusive hot food and an easy in flight experience. If you’re flying economy to the Yukon, there feels no better option.

Though for Frequent Flyers and those looking for Business Class and more premium travel options, or if you can’t fly without an entertainment unit you didn’t bring yourself, Air Canada will be the superior choice – the above only takes into account the base level experience as an economy passenger on both airlines.

You can book with Air North at http://flyairnorth.com/ or with Air Canada at http://www.aircanada.ca/.

The author flew to Whitehorse as a guest of the annual Breakout West conference in October 2019. Neither airline provided support for this article or its author, though Air North was a sponsor of the conference.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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