Manitoba chief disappointed with services offered First Nations people by regional airline

A Manitoba chief says he continues to be disappointed in the services being offered to First Nations citizens by an airline that travels to several remote and northern communities, because he said he believes the way the airline is being run does not work for the needs of First Nations people.

“The policies they have in place are not conducive to the demographics of our people,” Manto Sipi Cree Nation Chief Michael Yellowback said last week about Manitoba-based airline Perimeter Aviation, which is currently owned by the Exchange Income Corporation, and services more than a dozen First Nations communities.

Yellowback, the Chief of Manto Sipi, a fly-in community located in northeastern Manitoba, made the comments last Friday at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Chiefs-in-Assembly Annual General Meeting. (AGM)

Yellowback also put forth a motion at the AGM last week that was passed asking for changes to be made to service levels at the airline. The resolution states that several policies in place at the airline have been causing confusion and frustration for First Nations passengers.

According to Yellowback, the airline has been moving towards more cashless payment options, and he said that is a big issue for some who may not have a debit or credit card.

“Cashless policies they have implemented have really affected our Elders, and individuals on a fixed income are impacted because some of them don’t even have bank accounts,” he said.

“For many cash is often a preferred option to pay.”

The resolution also states there has been ongoing frustration with flight delays and cancellations because of the dangers those delays can cause for some First Nations people.

“There has been a number of concerns raised regarding the services provided by Perimeter Aviation, including delays and/or cancellations of flights where First Nations people have seen delays in medical appointments, or delays in receiving medical treatments or supplies,” the resolution states.

According to Yellowback, the current weight restrictions for luggage is also an ongoing issue for First Nations people, because he said those whose bags are too heavy are being forced to pay more to have their luggage shipped, and many can’t afford those additional costs.

“These baggage policies where only 70 pounds is allowable are not working for our communities, because even if you’re over by a few pounds they are going to charge you more,” Yellowback said.

“And that’s not right, especially for the people who are on a fixed income and those who are elderly.”

Yellowback says he and other First Nations leaders hope to work with Perimeter Aviation to see changes made.

“We want to hold them accountable. and that is why we have this resolution,” he said. “We want to shed light about the issues with the air carrier up north.”

Perimeter Aviation president and CEO Joey Petrisor, sent a statement to the Winnipeg Sun on Tuesday, and although he said he has not yet received any official correspondence from AMC regarding the resolution, he defended the airline’s efforts and record when it comes to working with and serving First Nations customers.

“In our pursuit of cultural sensitivity, understanding and inclusivity, Perimeter Aviation has instituted comprehensive cultural sensitivity training for all our staff,” Petrisor said.

“This training ensures that every member of our team is well-equipped to provide respectful and considerate service to passengers from diverse backgrounds and communities.”

Petrisor said the airline also recently introduced Passenger Experience Supervisors who work directly with customers in northern and remote communities.

“This role is designed to ensure that the unique needs and preferences of our northern passengers are thoroughly understood and met,” Petrisor said.

Petrisor also defended Perimeter Aviation’s baggage policies.

“Our baggage allowances and freight capacities rank among the highest in the industry, aligning with the standards upheld by regional carriers across the nation,” he said.

Petrisor added that Perimeter Aviation has been and will continue to be focused on initiatives that promote reconciliation, and build relationships with First Nations people and communities.

“Recognizing the importance of reconciliation, we contribute to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation through initiatives such as providing travel arrangements, tickets, and accommodations for over 1,000 youths and adults from Manitoba, Northwest Ontario, and Nunavut, who attend the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football game during the Orange Shirt Day weekend,” Petrisor said.

“We place a strong emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility in our services.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun