As WestJet announced plans to offer more flights this summer, many Albertans are thinking ahead to possible trips. But, given restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, where can they safely fly? And what things should consumers consider when booking a flight?
Calgary-based WestJet released its updated summer schedule and starting July 5, it’s offering flights to 39 Canadian destinations, five in the U.S. and one to Mexico.
The new schedule includes six flights a day from Edmonton to Calgary, and three a day each from Edmonton to Vancouver and Toronto. In anticipation of the border opening, WestJet is adding flights from Calgary to Los Angeles and Las Vegas four times weekly.
The airline grounded all international flights during the pandemic due to low demand.
WestJet said it will keep its “safety above all” policy in place, which allows more flexibility in bookings and cancellations.
However, Alberta Health is still strongly recommending against travel outside the country — or even outside the province. Non-essential travel is not included in Phase 2 of Alberta’s relaunch plan, which started on June 12. Alberta Health said it would continue to monitor the situation and notify Albertans if the recommendation changes.
“This is a global pandemic, with new evidence emerging daily, so we cannot provide a specific timeline for when this recommendation will change,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said.
The travel advisory from the government of Canada is also still urging people to avoid non-essential travel.
Passenger travel is down 90 per cent at the Edmonton International Airport. According to spokesperson Tom Ruth, that’s improved slightly from when COVID-19 started shutting down borders and travel. Initially, passenger travel dropped 95 per cent at the EIA.
Ruth is encouraged by the added flights and hopes traffic picks up soon.
“We’re not only seeing an increase in the future flights that are being loaded into Edmonton, but we’ve also seen an increased number of passengers,” he said.
“But let’s put it in perspective: we’re down significantly from where we were during our normal traffic, but we’re up about 16 per cent over the past two weeks. We’re doing a little over 1,000 passengers a day,” Ruth said.
“We can see the beginnings of what we hope to be a long-term recovery over time.”
AMA Travel says most of its customers aren’t looking south of the border yet, but there has still been interest for next year.
“That’s as a result of the current government restrictions to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada,” Nikola Berube said. “But we are seeing lots of interest in future bookings in 2021 for international travel, cruises and coach touring.”
She said now is a good time to plan for future trips — to make the most of deals, low prices, or use up travel credits and vouchers — as long as you’re familiar with the cancellation policies and your insurance coverage.
“It’s definitely going to be confusing to navigate and understand what countries’ restrictions are, what your travel limitations are relative to the government advisories in place in Canada.”
Berube also recommends booking any travel with a credit card in case travel companies face hardship in the future.