There’s a new campaign circulating that calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to go back in time in order to ease travel disruptions between Canada and the United States.
The Canadian American Business Council's initiative, called "Travel Like it's 2019,'' went live two weeks ago and has already resulted in almost 1,500 emails being sent to federal MPs and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, according to the Canadian Press.
The campaign, which can be viewed here, calls on the Government of Canada to ditch its ArriveCAN app, a mandatory pre-screening tool for visitors to Canada, and to begin tackling the backlog plaguing Nexus, which has yet to reopen its enrolment offices in Canada.
Critics say both issues are resulting in travel delays and discouraging would-be travellers.
Last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was hauled into a transport committee to explain the operational problems, from long security lines to delayed flights, that have been impacting airlines and airports for several months now.
Alghabra defended the government’s actions, blaming COVID-19 and the labour shortages that followed for causing months of disruptions that have, in many cases, left passengers waiting in long lines, held for extended periods of time on aircraft or without their luggage.
Minister Alghabra also defended ArriveCAN, saying it is not responsible for delays at the border, despite opposition members suggesting otherwise.
“This requirement disincentivizes travel”
ArriveCAN has faced widespread criticism for a while now as border mayors, small businesses and travel industry advocates argue that the app, first introduced in April of 2020, should be scrapped altogether.
Some say the app is hurting cross-border tourism communities, while others say it’s difficult to use (there are seniors, for example, who may not know what an app is).
U.S. lawmakers have recently been weighing in on the mandatory smartphone and desktop-based application.
"This requirement disincentivizes travel, harms the flow of commerce, and burdens travellers with the submission of private health information," New York Rep. Elise Stefanik wrote in a letter last week to Minister Mendicino and Kirsten Hillman, Canada's ambassador to the U.S.
“As a result, travellers are choosing to stay home rather than face long wait times and frustrations caused by the ArriveCAN app."
Stefanik called the app a glitchy barrier to travel with no public-health purpose anymore.
Even the Canadian government has admitted that ArriveCAN suffers glitches, which, at some points, were giving travellers the wrong instructions.
Some travellers entering Canada say they have received obsolete instructions urging them to quarantine.
An anecdote from Dublin
Speaking with PAX, travel advisor Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door shared her own anecdote of how ArriveCAN, in some cases, can slow things down at airports.
Coates recently returned home to Ontario after escorting a group to Ireland. When her group was checking in at the Transat counter in Dublin airport, she said there was a staff member checking to make sure everyone had the QR code from the ArriveCAN app.
“Everyone in my group had the code. However, there were three people from Ireland ahead of us who didn't,” Coates told PAX.
The staff member pulled them aside and made one of them download the app and complete the questionnaire.
Coates said it looked like an older couple and their daughter.
“The daughter was maneuvering it for them. However, she looked very flustered,” she said.
By the time Coates’ group got through, the daughter still had not gotten the QR code, and by this time, the lineup was long and “she was getting very exasperated,” Coates said.
“I felt sorry for these three people, and also for the Transat representative, who was having to enforce this,” Coates said.
Coates says the Government of Canada, in general, needs to improve on the way it communicates its expectations of travellers at international airports – especially when it comes to security screening.
At Dublin airport, for example, there are different ways information is shared with people in queue, Coates said, such as visible signage.
“I question why the Ministry of Transport is not taking a similar multi-layered approach at our international airports,” Coates said. “I flew out of Toronto Pearson, and although there is better staffing now than there was two months ago, there is still absolutely no communication by way of signage for travellers to know what is expected of them when they get to the point of putting their belongings in a bin to go through the scanner.”
Coates has already reached out to some of the members on Canada’s Transport Committee to share her experience.
She would like to know why the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is “so far behind” when it comes to communicating requirements.
Coates is also encouraging other travel advisors who have similar experiences to write to Minister Alghabra at Omar.Alghabra@parl.gc.ca.
“This has been such a busy summer for travel, and as travel advisors, we need to know that we can have confidence in helping our clients achieve their travel goals and dreams,” Coates told PAX.
“People are upset by what they are seeing in the media, and to be honest, as I watched the recording of the Committee hearings, Alghabra's responses seemed to be a total deflection.”