Saturday,  February 4, 2023  12:27 am

“More needs to be done”: What Canada's airlines are saying about Ottawa's eased travel rules

“More needs to be done”: What Canada's airlines are saying about Ottawa's eased travel rules
Canadian airlines sound off on Ottawa's latest update on border measures. (Supplied)
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.

The Canadian government’s suite of lightened border measures for fully vaccinated travellers, announced Tuesday (Feb. 15), are “a step in the right direction,” but “more needs to be done,” says Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC).

The NACC represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet.

In a statement yesterday, Acton-Gervais called Ottawa's announcement “a step forward both for travellers, our industry, and for the Canadian economy, which relies on trade and tourism.”

READ MORE: Vaxxed travellers can opt for antigen starting Feb. 28; advisory adjusted to Level 2; ban on int’l flights lifted at airports

But other countries have moved to eliminate pre-departure testing requirements entirely, Acton-Gervais pointed out, and the latest scientific evidence suggests that “now is the time for Canada to consider doing the same.”

The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark and France, for example, have removed all testing requirements at their borders for fully vaccinated travellers.

“Canada’s airlines are asking the federal government to produce a detailed science-based plan, and communicate it to industry and the public, that will allow for a predictable, safe return to travel that aligns with our global allies,” Acton-Gervais stated.

More flexibility 

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos unveiled several changes to Canada’s border rules, which will kick in Feb. 28, 2022 at 12:01 a.m. (EST). 

The eased measures include:

  • Giving travellers the option to undergo a pre-arrival antigen test (instead of a PCR test).
  • A return to randomized on-arrival testing at airports and travellers, if selected for testing, will not be required to quarantine while awaiting results.
  • Elimination of public health measures for unvaccinated children under the age of 12 travelling with fully vaccinated adults – children will no longer be required to self-isolate or avoid school, camp, daycare of other public spaces upon entry to Canada nor will they be subjected to testing. 
  • Downgrading the travel advisory on non-essential travel from level three to level two.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra also announced that, effective Feb. 28, the ban on international flights at all airports in Canada will be lifted. (Currently, 18 Canadian airports are allowed to accept international flights).

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announces eased border measures on Tuesday (Feb. 15).

Allowing vaccinated travellers to use antigen tests to return home is a welcome change given how Canada’s on-arrival and pre-departure testing rules have become increasingly complex for Canadians to navigate, the NACC said.

“Providing flexibility in acceptable pre-departure tests will provide comfort to the many Canadians who are keen to travel once again, make new memories, and be reunited with loved ones,” Acton-Gervais said.

“There is recognition that the risk has diminished significantly,” Acton-Gervais said. “The reopening of all Canadian airports to international markets will also provide more options for travellers, while supporting the recovery of airports in mid-size communities across the country.”

Acton-Gervais noted that Canada’s economic recovery “won’t happen without the recovery of the aviation industry.”

“Canada’s airlines will continue to invest in the safe restart of travel,” she said.

"We have been advocating tirelessly for these changes"

The WestJet Group, in a separate statement yesterday, welcomed Ottawa's eased border and travel measures.

"The removal of travel barriers for fully-vaccinated travellers and families is a positive step forward for our industry; we have been advocating tirelessly for these changes on behalf of our guests and our communities," said Angela Avery, WestJet executive vice-president, external affairs. "As a fully-vaccinated industry, we have worked with public health authorities and all governments to curb COVID-19 and [Tuesday's] announcement validates that travel has never been a significant vector of transmission."

Angela Avery, WestJet executive vice-president, external affairs. (WestJet)

The airline says it will continue to advocate for the return to surveillance arrivals testing only and for the federal government to outline a recovery roadmap for the travel and tourism industry, "based on science and reflective of the current realities of the COVID-19 pandemic."

“An important step forward”

Sunwing says it will be updating its Travel Requirements page on to reflect the new changes.

Additionally, Sunwing’s Agent portal and agent Facebook page will be updated with helpful information and resources, and reminder emails will be sent out about the new requirements.

Agents can also look forward to updates on Sunwing’s hotel pages to reflect which resorts offer on-site antigen tests and associated costs for travellers.

Additional communication will also be provided on the Travel Advisories page and within the Sunwing App.

Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations for Sunwing. (Supplied)

“We welcome [Tuesday’s] government announcement, which marks an important step forward for Sunwing, the agent community and the broader travel industry as we collectively emerge from the effects of the Omicron variant,” said Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations at Sunwing. “As we look ahead to our spring/summer season, we expect that several measures will have a positive impact on bookings…In the days ahead, we will be updating our websites and platforms with key content on changing requirements, all in an effort to provide our agent partners and customers with the latest information right at their fingertips, while helping Canadians return to travel with ease and confidence.”

Sunwing also offers the flexibility to change plans anytime with no fees up to seven days before departure, in addition to providing insurance options, including emergency COVID-19 medical coverage and quarantine expenses for as low as $4 per day.

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