Last August, I took the scenic route to Ottawa for my birthday. Flying from Inuvik, one of the most northwestern airports in Canada, down to Ottawa with stops in Dawson City, Whitehorse, and Yellowknife:
I didn’t book very far in advance, nor did I catch a seat sale, however it was an agreeable $600 CAD, one-way.
Although my morning began in Yellowknife, this trip report starts in Inuvik at noon, having flown up on one of Canadian North’s 737-300 combis:
Despite having a population of only 3,200, Inuvik is larger than the other seven communities combined in this region. 200km north of the Arctic Circle, its record low is -56°C, not including windchill.
Inuvik has a 6,001ft paved runway, which has seen 737 service since 1969. Today it has daily jet service, regional Cessna and Twin Otter flights, as well as Air North’s inter-territorial flight down to Dawson City and Whitehorse.
Today’s Air North flight arrived to pick me up an hour and a half late, waiting for the weather to improve at the Old Crow stop enroute:
It’s an ATR 42-300 built in 1989 for Ontario Express. Air North acquired it from First Air in 2016, and it still has First Air’s old cabin and combi configurations (0, 10, 18, 22, 30, 34, or 42 seats with the remaining space for cargo). The airline now has three ATRs, replacing the passenger HS748s.
Only 15 minutes after parking, boarding for Air North flight 398 was called, and we walked on the quiet ramp:
As it was a very pleasant 17°C outside, the airplane was ‘cold and dark’ with no ground power. As assigned seats are only for Air North’s jet flights, you can sit wherever you feel like. This leg ended up being about half-full:
The cabin was immaculate, with the only change from First Air’s cabin being the now-leather headrest covers:
Seat pockets include an airsickness bag, safety card, and inflight magazine. Note the combi layout depicted:
After a safety demo, we backtracked out to runway 06 and waited. And waited. And as we waited, the cabin lights occasionally blinked like when switching power sources:
Five minutes later, we taxied back to the terminal and the captain apologized and announced that they want to check out an indication that they weren’t expecting.
We deplaned, with the flight attendant following behind us:
Shortly after, the pilots started engines and taxied around. After parking into the wind, they shut down and our flight attendant announced to the terminal that we’re good to board again. On the upside, it was sunny now:
Now two and a half hours late, we were climbing out of Inuvik:
I haven’t spent too much time in Inuvik before, but from what I’ve seen it’s very scenic:
In all of my Air North flights, the flight crew has been very good with passenger announcements, usually making one at top of climb and shortly before descent.
The captain again apologized for the delay, this last one being caused by a minor electrical problem. After talking with maintenance in Whitehorse, they suspected it might have had something to do with the direction they parked relative to the wind when they shut down. Either way, the problem cleared itself, and we’re expecting a smooth flight to Dawson City at 24,000ft.
After that announcement, the flight attendant said this hour and a half flight would have a choice of sandwiches prepared by the Air North’s Whitehorse kitchen, complementary soft drinks, coffee, tea, water, as well as beer or wine at the cost of $5.
I opted for ham and cheese, which was very good:
An hour into the flight, a chocolate chip cookie was offered, which was even better:
Shortly after, we began our descent into Dawson City.
With only 1,300 people today, it used to have over 40,000 people a century ago, as the gold rush brought prospectors and miners up. Still, it retains the 'city' part of its name.
After a very scenic approach to runway 03, we landed gently onto the 5,006ft runway, which gravel until 2019:
Exiting the runway, you can see terrain along the extended centerline:
And right after that, we were greeted with a view of their 737-200 combi, based here during summers. Before being retired this year, it was used for transferring cruise passengers from Alaska onto buses for Yukon tours:
These guys know how to turn a plane quickly – we were off the airplane for six minutes before boarding again:
Needless to say, this is the only picture I took of the terminal:
Looking like a postcard, we were once again continuing south, this time with a full load of passengers.
With light winds, we departed off runway 21, with this end of the runway being just as mountainous:
The climb was scenic:
Thirty minutes into the hour-long flight to Whitehorse, the flight attendant served drinks and snacks – I went for Bits&Bites and apple juice.
As it was cloudy, I explored the cabin. Based on the relaxed passengers, you’d never tell that we would be landing three hours behind schedule:
I casually chatted with the flight attendant, who was more than happy to answer questions about the airplane or airline.
As the rest of the aircraft, the washroom and galley were spotless. Note the lack of a sink, which would freeze during winters; instead hand sanitizers were available:
Although the ATRs are workhorses, they are mainline aircraft, and the TLC they get is apparent:
Soon enough, we made an approach and landing onto 14R in Whitehorse, passing Cousins airport to the north of the city:
And, fashionably late, we were in Yukon’s capital. I’m not sure how long baggage delivery took as I didn’t have any bags, I can tell you that passengers got their bags before I got a taxi:
I spent a few days in the city, planespotting, and catching up with friends.
Whitehorse has about 25,000 people. As the capital of Yukon and home base for Air North, the airport sees some 366,000 passengers per year.
Getting lucky with the lighting, the planespotting was excellent, and temperature the whole time hovered around 20°C:
In addition to domestic flights, Whitehorse also has summer flights from Frankfurt with Condor once a week:
My weekend excursion was quickly coming to an end.
Flight 521’s 6:30am Pacific Time departure gets you into Ottawa at 4:10pm Eastern Time. Unfortunately, that puts you in the middle of the morning rush, with Air North, Air Canada, and WestJet having flights to Vancouver and Calgary at the same time.
Both check-in and security lines were very efficient:
I’ve heard that Yukoners are fiercely loyal to their hometown airline, and the vast majority of locals go out of their way to fly Air North. Anecdotally I’ve heard that Air Canada and WestJet are often tourists, if not people who haven’t yet flown Air North.
There are pages of glowing reviews online about Air North’s service. One that I read was from a single mother who had a death on her side of the family. She couldn’t afford to send her kids to the funeral in Alberta on such short notice. Distraught, she looked up Air North’s president and captain Joe Sparling in the phonebook and called him on a weekend morning. Having explained the situation to Joe, he arranged for tickets on the next flight out, and said she could pay the bereavement fare at a later date.
Having flown Air North many times myself, this doesn’t surprise me, and I always feel very welcome stepping onto their airplanes:
Once onboard, the plane filled up to near the 122 capacity. Air North has four 737-500s and one -400. This one, built for Braathens in 1993, received its orange-tail paint in 2010, and is fitted with Southwest seats. I’m 5’7”, and found the legroom to be very acceptable:
The same seat pocket contents, with similar safety card styling:
With everyone onboard, the flight attendants introduced themselves before giving the safety demo. There are no screens, but I wouldn’t trade service for that:
Startup and pushback was seven minutes early:
Flight deck communications for flight attendants are always the perfect mix between professional and friendly; the standard phraseology is, “In preparation for take-off, flight attendants please be seated.” And before you know it, we’re blasting off runway 14R:
Climbing left after departure, we were treated with nice views of the city and scenery:
The seatbelt sign was soon turned off. As always, the captain makes a very detailed announcement about the routing, ETA, and weather. Right now, we’re just east of Watson Lake heading towards Fort Simpson, at 37,000ft, doing 530mph, it’s currently 8:22am in Yellowknife and 15°C, and we expect to park at 9:20am. Unfortunately, he said, there isn’t much sightseeing right now with the cloud cover.
On other flights I’ve taken, the flight deck would go so far as to mention that there will be a United Airlines 777 from Asia passing overhead in a few moments, so the seatbelt sign will be temporarily turned on.
The flight attendants came by with blueberry muffins, lemon bread, or yogurt. Drinks were right behind:
We began descended into Yellowknife, and 100 miles back, we got another announcement from the flight deck with a weather update:
You could tell by the water how breezy it was, but it was steady:
We touched down on runway 34 at 9:15am, which meant we would park as advertised:
Beside us was a Canadian North 737-200C, preparing for a flight to Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, both with gravel runways:
As it’s a quick turn, half an hour later, we were on the move to Ottawa, passing a 737-300C that came in from Edmonton on its way up to Norman Wells and Inuvik:
With 95 passengers, we backtracked for a runway 34 departure:
After more greetings from the flight deck, forty-five after take-off, the flight attendants began the service.
Today’s lunch options were roasted chicken, arctic char, or a vegetarian meal. Even towards the back of the plane, all of the meal choices were available; I went for the arctic char and a can of my favourite Yukon Brewery beer:
As I mentioned, I’ve flown these single-class 737s several times and have never been disappointed. Below are some previous meal examples, taken with a camera phone. If you inform them at the time of booking, they will also provide vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free meals.
Chicken cordon bleu:
Needless to say, they’re all top quality. On a quiet flight one evening, I asked the flight attendant which one she would recommend. Without missing a beat, she started describing in detail how each one was prepared. She thought about the options before suggesting the shepherd’s pie. After the meal, she asked me if it was a good choice.
Speaking of flight attendants, Air North’s are easily among the best in the industry. Of course they’re professional, but they always take their time, are very friendly, and clearly enjoy working.
Although it might sound like cliché, I have seen flight attendants notice a passenger fall asleep against the sidewall without a pillow, only to return a moment later to gently place a pillow next to them. I’ve also seen them offer to babysit an infant to allow the parent to go to the washroom. Clearly, Yukoners are loyal for a reason.
Having the row to myself, I stretched-out for the photo, but actually spent the flight with my feet on my backpack and used the middle tray table:
As the drink cart came by every hour, nobody goes thirsty on Air North. Water, Midnight Sun coffee, assorted tea, Yukon Brewery Beer, good quality red or white wine, milk, fruit juices, clamato juice, ginger ale, A&W root beer, and pretty much any other soft drink you can mention. On this flight, somebody in the row ahead of me asked if they had hot chocolate. ‘Ho-ho!’, I thought, I’ve never seen an airline offer that … But the flight attendant opened a packet of hot chocolate and added hot water.
I didn’t bring the camera around the jet, but if you can imagine a clean 737-500, that’s what it looked like.
And all too soon, we were given another update from the captain, 27°C in Ottawa, on-time arrival, and if you have to go to the washroom one last time, this would be a good time to go. Flight attendants then came by with candy:
Passing Gatineau to land on runway 25:
Another gentle landing and short taxi. We parked 15 minutes early:
With the captain standing at the doorway, passengers and crew exchanged smiles and thank yous:
And that was that:
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this trip report and that your Air North flights are as enjoyable.