Canada's airlines seek delay to feds' new testing rules
CALGARY - Canada's travel industry is reacting with disappointment after hopes for a last-minute extension to new COVID-19 testing requirements for international travellers were dashed on Wednesday.
Ottawa announced last week that people flying to Canada as of Thursday, Jan. 7, would have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board their flight.
The industry asked for a delay in implementation to Jan. 18 but Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the restrictions will go ahead as of midnight Wednesday to coincide with the expiration of Canada's ban on flights from the United Kingdom.
Canada halted most air travel from the U.K., where a mutated strain of COVID-19 had been discovered, on Dec. 20.
“Our concerns over the past several days have not changed - we did not believe we would have sufficient time to successfully implement the program,” said Mike McNaney, CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada.
“The government obviously has concluded otherwise so we are continuing to do all the work we can to try to implement the policy as effectively as possible.”
He said the airlines are concerned that passengers either won't be able to obtain tests or will be unaware of their obligations and front-line employees will have to stop them from boarding their return flights to Canada.
Passengers are required to take a deep nasal swab test less than 72 hours before takeoff but Garneau said Wednesday that will be extended to 96 hours in the cases of about two dozen countries, mainly in the Caribbean.
That shows that the Canadian government is aware of issues with testing availability around the world, a point the industry has made in meetings over the past week, said Markus Ruediger, spokesman for the International Air Transportation Association.
“”It's the implementation part that is complicated and I think that is why the industry has been asking if we could have more time,“ he said.
The airline industry asked Ottawa for the 11-day delay in implementing the new rules in a letter dated Monday and signed by the two trade associations along with Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing.
The letter warned that Canadians stand to be denied boarding and “stranded” in foreign countries because of the regulations.
In statements, Sunwing and WestJet said they are disappointed at the low level of federal consultation with the industry and added they would like to see to a national inbound COVID-19 testing strategy to reduce quarantine requirements.
“This latest announcement by the federal government is specifically the type of chaotic situation WestJet has been seeking to avoid,” said WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell.
Travel agents said the new requirements have caused “chaos” for their industry.
“The extremely tight deadline to ensure that airlines have processes in place and for travel agents to ensure their clients already in transit are able to meet the new requirements are unrealistic,' said Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, in a statement.
“This is causing chaos for Canadians abroad and for their travel agents trying to assist â€¦ Travel agents are receiving multiple cancellations as a result of this policy.”
Ottawa travel agent Nancy Wilson, a founding member of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, says the update by Garneau failed to address key concerns the industry has about what advice to give clients.
“We feel we can't go forward with doing any kind of travel (advice) at this point even though the airlines and tour companies are still trying to sell their products,” she said.
“How can we possibly, both from a moral responsibility base as well as a liability factor, go forward advising people who travel?”