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Travel by air to Ontario’s remote northern communities

Why chartering a flight is a safe and convenient option

Charter travel by air is easy and affordable. It also brings an element of personalization to flying, which can be hard to find these days.

When you book a charter flight, you can fly when you want, where you want and with whom you want. You set the schedule and the airline is there to accommodate you.

Even during COVID, it’s possible to charter a flight. 

“We were able to keep going during COVID,” says Jim Holm, President of Thunder Airlines. “We’ve adapted and we’re available for charters.”

When the general public hears the phrase ‘travel ban’ they may not know exactly what that entails. While the majority of communities in the north were indeed closed for several months, the northern Ontario market is now opening back up again. 

Thunder Airlines has been in business for 26 years and was founded with one goal in mind—to serve the communities in Northern Ontario. They operate hangars at three bases: Thunder Bay, Timmins and Sudbury, from which they service almost all airports in Ontario and surrounding areas. Their charter service is available from Thunder Bay and Timmins.

“Just about everybody takes advantage of charter service,” says Holm. “We fly pretty much anywhere you want to go. Our main theatre of operation is Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, but we do fly into the US on demand and we are authorized to do that.”

The company works with many contractors and community support groups. In addition to charters, they operate scheduled flights seven days a week along the coast of James Bay, servicing Timmins, Moosonee, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat daily. 

“COVID has changed the airline industry for sure but we’re in a unique position in that we aren’t the big guys. We aren’t Air Canada or WestJet,” says Christa Calabrese, Administration Manager. “We’re able to spool up quicker and be ready to go; we’re quick at changing with the times.”

As per Transport Canada rules, everyone is required to wear a mask while they fly. They also need to be masked while in the airline’s lobby areas, which are dedicated public spaces; so, when you arrive and while you’re on your flight, you will need to wear a mask.

The company has strict cleaning protocols in place. Passengers will enter a clean lobby with seating that has been spaced out to ensure social distancing. Those who prefer can even wait outside and pilots will let you know when they are ready. 

“We’re here to accommodate our customer,” says Calabrese, “and we’re open to whatever questions they may have. We want to make sure they feel safe; it’s a stressful time for everyone. When the general public thinks about flying it’s probably an added stress, but we’re here to make them feel comfortable.”

During the early days of the pandemic, the charter market disappeared. Freight kept moving; Thunder Airlines worked continuously throughout the lockdown because they had communities to support. But as far as people flying, any non-essential travel to the north ground to a halt. 

Now that things are slowly opening back up again—quarantine periods are still in place—more support is being allowed back into the communities. Lots of supports are needed, both physical and mental, as well as community maintenance and infrastructure. The only way into these northern communities this time of year is by air.

Because Thunder Airlines has been around for so long, it has developed close relationships with the communities they fly into and the customers they serve. They’re like family, and staff are keen to do everything they can to help.

To book a charter flight, contact the airline’s dispatch department; they are incredibly flexible and can work with minimal lead time. Tell them how many passengers you have, how much freight and your route. They can help, whether you’re planning well in advance or booking last-minute.

Thunder Airlines is your northern connection, known for affordable fares, a specialized fleet of aircraft, a strong safety record and friendly staff. For more information, call 1-800-803-9943.