Thursday,  May 19, 2022  5:18 am

Despite Omicron, 740,000+ Canadians flew internationally in December

Despite Omicron, 740,000+ Canadians flew internationally in December
Statistics Canada counted 742,417 Canadian air-passenger arrivals returning home from abroad in December 2021. (Shutterstock/Shawn Goldberg)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Have passport, will travel.

Despite Canada’s non-essential travel advisory and the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, hundreds of thousands of Canadians still packed their bags and travelled abroad last month, according to data released by Statistics Canada.

In its Jan. 12 report, Statistics Canada tallied 742,417 Canadian air-passenger arrivals returning home from abroad in December.

It’s a sharp increase from December 2020, which saw a mere 93,800 Canadian air arrivals – almost six times less – returning home from destinations abroad.

The same jump in numbers is also reflected in Canadian travellers who returned home from the United States by car.

In December, there were 608,900 Canadian residents who returned from the U.S. in Canadian-licensed automobiles via 111 land ports of entry.

READ MORE: So your client has tested positive for COVID-19 in destination. Now what? Agents share helpful tips

(While more than four times the 146,000 recorded in December 2020, it is still less than one-third (31.8 per cent) of the 1.9 million Canadians who drove back across the border in the same month of 2019).

The impact of the molecular pre-entry test requirement – regardless of trip length – that Ottawa tightened on Dec. 21, 2021, is clear, Statistics Canada points out. 

In the first 20 days of the month, an average of 24,600 Canadian residents per day returned from the U.S.

Once the federal testing requirement went into effect, this daily average decreased by more than half (10,600).

The new data challenges the notion that most Canadians, in response to Ottawa’s reinstated non-essential travel advisory and the highly-contagious Omicron variant, were planning on staying home this winter, as this Leger survey released in early December suggested.

On the contrary, rising international travel is expected to continue: according to data posted by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), there were 216,752 Canadian air-passenger arrivals to Canada during the week of Jan. 3 to Jan. 9.

Ongoing hurdles

Travellers continue to face several hurdles, however, including flight cancellations as major airlines shrink schedules for pandemic-related reasons, such as staff out sick after contracting the COVID-19 virus.

From late December to now, WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat have all altered their schedules after temporarily suspending select winter routes.  

In addition, ongoing barriers enforced by the Canadian government, such as pre and on-arrival PCR testing for asymptomatic, fully-vaccinated travellers, continues to impact travel’s performance, as airlines and industry advocates have pointed out several times already.

READ MORE: “This is a significant barrier”: ACTA joins call to lift arrival testing, quarantine

So does the fear of catching COVID-19 while abroad, which requires travellers to stay in destination, and quarantine, for an extended period of time.

To return to Canada, air passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure, and if that test comes back positive, they must wait at least 11 days before boarding a flight home.

Amid the Omicron wave, incidents of Canadians being forced to stay longer in destinations after testing positive for COVID-19 are more common, posing new challenges to travel advisors as they help clients navigate their way through the system.

It’s an international ordeal that involves extra steps, such as rescheduling return flights, and unexpected costs when extended stays, food requirements and additional PCR tests are thrown into the mix.

But there are several ways travel advisors can prepare for situations like this, if and when they occur.

Read PAX’s report from last week that features helpful tips – shared by travel advisors – for helping clients who test positive for COVID-19 while abroad.

Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!  Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.