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'Dynamic and evolving situation:' Air Canada, Westjet explain confusion over ticket prices as Yellowknife residents evacuate

Airlines adjust flight prices amid wildfires in the Northwest Territories

Social media users expressed dismay after prices for one way flights departing Yellowknife on Thursday were listed for thousands of dollars. This comes as the capital of Northwest Territories is under a mandatory evacuation order.

Officials issued the order to evacuate Yellowknife on Wednesday evening as uncontained wildfires barrelled towards the city — home to over 20,000 residents.

"By issuing an evacuation order now, we can implement the evacuation plan while the highway is still open and with plenty of flights to evacuate everyone," Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty told CBC News.

Officials say residents have until Friday at noon, local time, to clear out of the city.

Thursday morning, as wildfires were reported less than 17 kilometres from the capital, confusion over flight pricing and availability sparked.

One person on social media shared a flight itinerary for Thursday from Yellowknife to Edmonton, on multiple airlines (including Air Canada) with three stops, listed for $4,665.

In a comparison, one way flights from Yellowknife to Calgary and Yellowknife to Vancouver with Westjet were priced significantly lower on Thursday afternoon.

By Thursday evening the flight search tool Google Flights displayed even lower flight prices for both Westjet and Air Canada flights from Yellowknife.

Air Canada and Westjet flight pricing as of 5:15 p.m. ET on Thursday
Air Canada and Westjet flight pricing as of 5:15 p.m. ET on Thursday

Air Canada, Westjet trying to avoid price escalation

When asked about the flight pricing, Air Canada told Yahoo Canada on Thursday that the fares posted on social media Thursday morning are for "complex itineraries."

"In these instances where people are posting screenshots of higher fares from social media, these are based on complex itineraries involving multiple flights, and sometimes multiple carriers, rather than direct flights out," Air Canada's emailed statement reads.

As Yellowknife residents search for flights to comply with evacuation orders, it is important to note that the order was issued less than 24 hours ago and there are limited flights in the region.

"We are working with authorities to determine how long we can continue to operate given the limitations being imposed on flying due to the fires," Air Canada stated.

Air Canada indicated it has sent additional aircraft to the region with service to Edmonton Friday morning, at a price of $272.

Competitor Westjet confirmed to Yahoo Canada that a travel advisory has been posted on its website and flexible change/cancel guidelines have been announced for travellers to Yellowknife between Aug. 17 and Aug. 22.

"To ensure guests evacuating are able to do so affordably, WestJet has adjusted fare classes to avoid price escalation," the airline's emailed statement reads.

Westjet added that it has introduced larger aircrafts to operate previously scheduled flights between Calgary and Yellowknife, as well as increased the pet in cabin limit in consideration for those fleeing their homes with pets.

"As the situation evolves, we are working diligently to provide increased capacity from Yellowknife and will share further updates as they become available," Westjet stated.