Canada's decision to cancel south air service until spring was a collective one made with Canada's major airlines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated on Friday (Jan. 29) after unveiling tougher international travel restrictions.
Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Transat, starting Sunday (Jan. 31), have agreed to suspend operations to the Caribbean and Mexico until April 30, 2021, Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister called Canada's top carriers "strong partners" in the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
"We appreciate the work the Canadian airlines and their frontline workers have done to make air travel safer and to bring Canadians home when this pandemic struck last spring," Trudeau said before announcing other border protocols, such as mandatory PCR testing in airports and hotel quarantines.
With the challenges Canada and other destinations are currently facing, "We all agree that not is just not the time to be flying," Trudeau said.
Trudeau added that his government is committed to working with carriers on "the future relationship between testing and quarantine requirements."
"This will allow for the safe, gradual return to international air travel grounded in science and evidence," he said.
Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, called the safety of the travelling public and the transportation industry "top priorities."
"Our government continues to strongly advise against non-essential travel outside Canada, and has implemented many measures to protect the health of Canadians in our transportation system. The expansion of the flight restrictions is based on decisive, public health rationale from the Public Health Agency of Canada to further protect Canadians from the health impacts of COVID-19," said Minister Alghabra in a statement.
Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO, issued a statement on Friday, via WestJet’s blog, in response to Trudeau's update.
“The government asked, and we agreed,” Sims wrote. “While we know that air travel is responsible for less than two per cent of cases since the start of the crisis, and even less today, we recognize the Government of Canada’s ask is a precautionary measure."
"We also note that the overwhelming majority of quarantine exemptions, well over 90 per cent in fact, are connected to land borders and not air travel. We have responded to their request and will suspend service to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.”
Effective Sunday, Jan. 31, WestJet will suspend southbound operations to the following destinations until April 30.
Vancouver – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Vancouver – Cancun, Mexico
Vancouver – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Calgary – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Calgary – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Calgary – Cancun, Mexico,
Calgary – Liberia, Costa Rica
Edmonton – Cancun, Mexico
Edmonton – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Toronto – Cancun, Mexico
Toronto – Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Toronto – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Toronto – Kingston, Jamaica
Toronto – Montego Bay, Jamaica
Toronto – Liberia, Costa Rica
Toronto – Varadero, Cuba
Toronto – Saint Lucia
Toronto – Saint Marten
Toronto – Nassau, Bahamas
Toronto – Bermuda
Edmonton – Mazatlan, Mexico (Swoop)
Edmonton – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Swoop)
Toronto – Montego Bay, Jamaica (Swoop)
Toronto – Cancun, Mexico (Swoop)
Over the subsequent two weeks, WestJet says it will work to bring guests already in destination back to Canada.
Through its Safety Above All program, the WestJet Group has implemented extensive safety measures since the start of the pandemic and as a result, there have been no documented cases of person-to-person transmission onboard the airline's flights.
"The pandemic has had devastating impacts on our hard-working people, and they have made tremendous sacrifices throughout," said Sims. "The government recognizes how uniquely hard hit our industry has been and has acknowledged our efforts to curb the spread of the virus. We note their words of support for our airline as a strong partner in the fight against COVID-19."
For guests with travel booked during the impacted period, WestJet says it will "proactively notify them of their options."
Air Transat took to its Twitter account on Friday to address customer concerns.
"We know that it’s causing a great deal of concern among our customers currently at destination or who planned to travel in the coming weeks, and we are sorry," Air Transat tweeted.
Transat A.T. Inc., later, officially announced the repatriation of its customers to Canada.
This operation is expected to take place over the next two weeks, the company said.
"We are putting in place the measures requested by the Canadian government, including not travelling to the South. This forces us to temporarily suspend all our flights, including to Europe," said Jean-Marc Eustache, President and Chief Executive Officer of Transat. "We will do everything we can to return our customers back to Canada. We obviously share the government's objective to protect Canadians from COVID-19, including the new variants, and this is what all of our personnel have been doing in recent months, particularly on board our aircraft, with a comprehensive program of adapted sanitary measures."
Air Transat will operate several dozen flights over the next two weeks to return its customers to Canada.
Transat customers scheduled to return to the country between now and Feb. 13 will keep their original flight, while customers whose flights are cancelled will automatically be redirected to another Air Transat flight.
"Transat's priority is to get everyone home," the company said.
Until April 30, customers who are unable to travel due to the cancellation of their flight will be refunded in the same method of payment they used for their booking.
Transat reiterated the importance of Ottawa putting in place sector-specific financial aid to support its industry and the investments it has made in recent years, "not to mention the tens of thousands of workers in the sector who have lost their jobs."
"The airline industry is highly competitive, and international carriers from other countries have benefited from significant support measures from their governments since the beginning of the pandemic," the company said. "This is creating a considerable imbalance that has hurt the competitiveness of Canada's airlines for months and threatens their survival. Moreover, the entire Canadian economy will be deprived of the vital and strategic contribution of the airline and aeronautics industry when the recovery comes."
Transat said the temporary shutdown of operations has "resulted in further layoffs of flight crews and support staff."
Air Canada also issued a statement on Friday, confirming that the directive was, indeed, a collaborative one.
"Air Canada believes a collaborative approach with the Government of Canada involving all air carriers is the best means to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given concerns around the variants of COVID- 19 and travel during the Spring Break period,” stated Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive Officer at Air Canada. “Through consultation we have established an approach that will allow us to achieve an orderly reduction in service to these destinations that minimizes the impact on our customers and will support important public health goals to manage COVID-19.”
“System-wide the incremental impact on Air Canada's cash burn is not material given the already reduced levels of passenger traffic resulting from COVID-19 and travel restrictions.”
Air Canada will operate a number of one-way commercial flights from affected destinations after Jan. 31 in order to return customers to Canada.
The airline says affected customers will be offered full refunds given the services are being suspended with no alternative available.
Suspended destinations in Air Canada's network include: Cayo Coco, Cancun, Liberia, Montego Bay, Punta Cana, Varadero, Puerto Vallarta, Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Kingston, Mexico City, Nassau, Providenciales and San Jose.
In a statement to PAX, Sunwing spokesperson Melanie Filipp said the "decision was not made lightly, but something we deemed necessary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is based on ongoing collaboration with the government and the Canadian aviation industry."
Sunwing is notifying customers currently in destination about changes to their existing flights and those with upcoming vacation bookings, she said.
Customers with cancelled bookings will be provided a full refund to the original form of payment.
"We look forward to planning for our eventual return to service in the spring and making more travellers’ vacation dreams come true," Filipp said.
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