The first day of the new COVID-19 testing rules was a chaotic one for Canadian airlines and tour operators.
WestJet said it had to deny 10 passengers from boarding a flight from Cancun to Calgary because they didn’t have the proper test results for the virus. They had similar issues with four passengers hoping to fly to Calgary from Maui, and three passengers trying to get from Las Vegas to Calgary, a spokesperson told TravelPulse Canada.
Air Transat said it had eight passengers stuck in Holguin, Cuba looking for accommodations for the night.
“As I’m writing this, I’m informed of eight stranded customers on our first northbound flight of the day (HOG-YYZ). We are helping them find accommodation, testing and are flexible with rebooking at no cost,” Christophe Hennebelle, Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Affairs for Transat, said in an email to TravelPulse Canada.
“Luckily enough, one of Transat’s strengths is crisis management, so we’ve been doing just that,” Hennebelle said. “We have identified testing facilities in all of our destinations and communicated them to our clients (where we could – it was not always possible to reach some flight-only customers).
“So, we expect to be able to limit the damages. But we’re still dealing with it one flight after the other, and there are still come concerns (overbooking, shortage of swabs and the like).”
Hennebelle said he hopes the federal government “will now show as much efficiency and determination to adapt the rules to make travel safe (as opposed to blocking it) and support the industry as they have shown in implementing this measure.”
WestJet said on Thursday that it couldn’t board the Cancun to Calgary passengers because they didn’t have eligible tests that met the new government of Canada requirements.
WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell told Reuters that the airline has rebooked the passengers denied boarding on the Thursday morning flight from Cancun to Calgary, but said the “situation further highlights the challenges travelers and our operations are facing” from the new requirements.
Air Canada said it is helping some passengers obtain the tests.
“As expected, we are experiencing some challenges with customers who have not met the new government testing requirements,” said Air Canada spokeswoman Pascale Dery.
“Overall, the operation is running well but, as expected, we are experiencing some challenges with customers who have not met the new Government testing requirements,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told TravelPulse Canada. “Our agents are working diligently to help affected customers obtain the necessary tests to meet the new rules and rebooking them so they can travel as soon as possible.
“With recent announcements about travel requirements for all passengers entering Canada by air, ACV wanted to ensure a safe and smooth return home for travellers by preparing them with the information they needed,” Fitzpatrick said. “As soon as the announcement was made on December 31st, we sent emails directly to our customers and travel agents, informing them of the new requirements for re-entry, and posted these onto our website at several key user touchpoints.
“We provided all ground handlers and hotel partners with the updated government directives, and a detailed list of local facilities offering PCR testing, so that they could share the information with any customers already at destination in preparation for their return home. We posted the full list of in-destination testing facilities to ACV’s Facebook page for the trade to ensure that travel agents had the tools necessary to respond to their customers’ needs.
“We have also sent list of FAQs to our trade partners and we will keep updating and reminding customers of the new requirement.
“Although we have no control of the directives imposed by the government, or how information related to them is rolled out, we understand the importance of helping our customers stay informed,” Fitzpatrick said. “We urge all travellers to visit the Government of Canada website for the most accurate up-to-date information, as we continue to update our own channels as the situation evolves.”
Sunwing COO Andrew Dawson said the company is looking at providing testing at some of their hotels.
“Our destination teams are working with the accredited PCR testing facilities in each country in order to provide as much support and guidance as possible to our customers,” he said. “One of these initiatives is to try to arrange for a certified local testing company to provide on-site PCR tests at some of our popular resorts such as Royalton and RIU. In fact, we recently conducted a trial at Royalton Punta Cana.
“More information will be made available to customers in destination if or when this service is available,” Dawson said. “In the meantime, our local teams and Sunwing representatives remain at their service to recommend accredited testing facilities and assist with transportation needs, if required. They also advise that customers book their PCR tests as soon as possible to guarantee appointment availability.”
A Sunwing spokesperson said their approach to the overall testing situation “is to provide consistent, regular updates on the new testing requirements that are being mandated by the Canadian government, across various touchpoints, all in an effort to be transparent and ensure the guest experience is as frictionless as possible.
“Our Sunwing representatives in destination are also offering on-the-ground support – in person and via the Sunwing app – to address customer questions or concerns and to provide general guidance on the new requirements.”
Sunwing representatives are helping customers in destination, the spokesperson said. They also “can provide customers with guidance on accredited testing facilities, transportation to and from a testing facility, if needed, and associated testing and transportation costs. They are also helping customers determine if a PRC test can be administered at their resort.
“While our representatives are an invaluable resource and will make every effort to assist customers with navigating these new testing requirements, it is the traveller’s sole responsibility to ensure they are compliant with the regulations and have obtained a valid COVID-19 test prior to their scheduled flight departure. Sunwing also cannot guarantee appointment availability or the timing to receive test results. We expect that the Canadian government will release a formal list of approved testing facilities soon and will provide this to our customers in destination, and those with upcoming bookings, once it is available.”
A spokesman for G Adventures said they currently have five Canadian travellers in Costa Rica.
“Our CEOs (chief experience officers) are assisting them in finding local testing centres before they depart, and no one is stranded,” the spokesman said. “We have not received any information from Ottawa besides what has been issued publicly.
“Going forward, we’ll be providing travellers with their testing options on day one of their tour. Travellers will need to get tested during the last two days of their trip if they are flying straight home,” the spokesman said.
“If they have post-nights in the end city, they will likely opt to get their testing done in the that city before they depart.”
Destination marketing officials also were struggling to cope with the new rules.
“We continue to monitor the ongoing surge in cases globally, and we recognize that the additional rules from the federal governments aims to reduce local spread,” said Peter Mayers, Canada’s Director of Barbados Tourism. “Admittedly, it appears these new rules will further complicate the travel process.
“However, we are encouraged by the proactive nature of our partners who are working diligently with us to determine the best way to manage these changes and to minimize any displacement.”
Jeff Element, President at the The Travel Corporation Canada, said the new rules “will certainly add a new challenge to the decision making process and another barrier to travelling. All this really does is make people postpone any current travel plans they have.
“We will see another layer of strain for those travel companies that are hanging on by a thread, particularly the companies who are heavily involved in winter sun vacations. We, at The Travel Corporation (TTC), won’t be impacted as significantly, seeing as our vacations do not focus on winter sun but we do not want to see any of our travel industry partners suffer.
“The impacts on travellers may include forgoing much needed holidays which many depend upon for their well-being (emotional / mental health). If people feel they need to escape and only can do it later this year, there will be limited choice with potentially higher prices when they do get to travel.”
David Green, Daivd Green, VP Commercial, G Adventures, said the new requirement for travellers to provide a negative COVID test taken within 72 hrs before arriving in Canada “will potentially damage the recovery of our travel industry.”
“The tourism industry has been heavily affected and this has the potential to deter people from travelling, which may well be the government’s intention,” he said. “If that’s the case then more needs to be done to support our industry. We are all in favour of COVID tests happening on arrival in Canada, and people needing to quarantine at home while they wait on their results, but the new ruling is another knock to the industry’s recovery plans.”
Source: Travel Pulse Canada