A strange thing occurred to me when I was talking about summer travel plans with some friends yesterday. As we went around the circle, with each one of us adding in our ideal destinations and how we'd make it feasible, I realized that, out of all the cities we named, none of them were inside of Canada.
The thing is, this didn't even seem strange in the moment. It was only after my boyfriend, who is American, mentioned how most of his friends from back home don't even have passports, so international travel is never really an option.
It's so natural for Quebecers to immediately decide to leave Canada when we're looking for places to travel. We don't even think it's particularly strange, or much of a bad thing. In fact, a majority of Canadians choose a destination outside of the nation's borders when planning a vacation.
But that isn't how things should be.
This isn't a trend seen throughout North America, but rather a unique travel-POV to Canadians. Our southern neighbours provide a pretty stark contrast that illustrates my point.
Domestic Flights In Canada Vs. America
In the United States, it's almost common for citizens to lack passports, mainly because they travel internally. Rather then cross their own borders, Americans are more likely to head to a different state. Yes, this is a generalization, but one that is based in at least some anecdotal evidence.
A key reason U.S. citizens stick to their own country when traveling is the sheer variety of the American landscape. Living in the U.S., you can travel from tropical to temperate to winter climates without ever taking an international flight.
But what really keeps Americans in America is the price of flights. Domestic travel in the U.S. is incredibly cheap, so it only makes sense that an American would travel to another state for their vacation rather than another country.
Canada doesn't have it so good.
Flying domestically in Canada is easily on-par with a majority of international flights in terms of price. Most of the time, it's even more expensive.
Take a look at the photo below, originally shared by Spotted Montreal, as a prime example. Within the image, the different prices for flights from Edmonton (as was pointed out) to St. John's International Airport (YYT), almost all of which are offered by Air Canada.
UPDATE: Air Canada was kind enough to reach out and clarify the reasoning for the pricing of this particular flight. Here's what they had to say "the screen shots of AC airfares from Edmonton (not Montreal) to St John’s, NL, were an unfortunate consequence to the short-lived computer system issue created by the sudden surge in demand for air travel due to the circumstances surrounding the evacuation of Fort McMurray on May 3-4. We quickly resolved this issue and customers were reimbursed last week when it was brought to our attention."
What's the one thing almost all of these flights have in common? They're ridiculously expensive. Every single Air Canada flight is above $4000, enough to deter any traveler who isn't rolling in the dough.
Granted, this is an exaggerated circumstance since it's a same-day booking (and, as updated info showcases, an anomaly) but it still showcases how absurdly pricey a domestic flight can be in Canada.
Even the more affordable WestJet flight is still pretty damn expensive. Despite being a fraction of the Air Canada price, WestJet's offering is set above $600.
In this instance, a Canadian would be forced to pay upwards of $600 for a domestic flight.
UPDATE: It's also worth nothing that domestic flights are at a record low right now, but fees attached to the tickets (airport improvement costs, security fees, etc.) are still keeping the price pretty high. So airlines themselves are not entirely to blame for the price of domestic flights in Canada.
If travelling in the U.S., you would pay the same amount (if not far cheaper) to travel from NYC to San Francisco.
So it makes sense that Canadians would travel outside of the country, especially when we're entirely screwed over when it comes to domestic flight travel. I mean, I would rather fly to London, England rather than Vancouver when the difference in price is almost negligible.
Who's to blame for the price gouging of Canadian domestic flights? Well, the airlines, of course.
The Canadian Airline Monopoly And Its Consequences
Like it is with cell phones and internet service, there's a pretty real monopoly on air travel in Montreal. As the largest airline in Canada, and often times the only option when it comes to flying anywhere, Air Canada can pretty much set the price for a flight as they see fit.
WestJet, Canada's second largest airline, is the only real competition to Air Canada, but they're prices aren't that much better. Often times, the two airlines set comparable prices for domestic and international flights as a means to ensure the price always stays high.
From a business perspective, it makes sense. When you and another business are basically the only providers of an essential service, why not charge more money so you both profit?
It's this pseudo-monopoly on air travel, or alternatively, a lack of airline-competition, that makes travelling within Canada so damn expensive. Unfortunately, this sad reality hurts Canada more than one might think.
On an economic level, as Canadians continue to travel outside of the country for their vacation, Canadian cities lose out on money. Travellers are always ready to spend their hard-earned cash, but when citizens are always doing that in foreign nations, Canadian cities lose out on that income.
Personally, I would love to fly to Halifax in the summer and eat at all of the restaurants there, but I'm not going to when the flight there-and-back cuts into 3/4 of my entire travel-budget.
Then there's the very real cultural consequence of Canadians not traveling domestically. Simply put, Canadians don't get to understand the country as a whole, learning first-hand about the different cultures that make up Canada's provinces and territories.
That's probably why certain provinces and cities feel so isolated from one another, with Quebec being a prime example, and why a Quebecer will know absolutely nothing about the rest of Canada. I'm not saying that, should domestic travel prices be lowered, Canada would instantly become culturally unified and all that, but it would definitely help.
Exposure is the best path to understanding, and if Canadians don't experience what life is like for Canadians in other provinces, how can we ever begin to empathize with and understand them?
Right now, the Canadian identity is fractured, but if travelling domestically was far easier and affordable, that might not be the case. Or, at least, Canadians would better understand each other.
There's no quick-fix to this problem, though newly launched airlines like NewLeaf will hopefully ameliorate the situation. Ideally other foreign airlines will come into Canada, increase the level of competition, and even the playing field out a bit for the consumer.
Until then, however, I think Canadians should take some time to consider travelling within our nation when planning out a vacation. Sure, it may cost you a bit more money, but it's high time we learn, see, and experience the nation we all call home.