Low-cost airline Swoop announced Monday that it would be offering “warm weather vacations” for Edmontonians this winter to Mexico and Phoenix, despite rising cases of COVID-19 in the province.
In a news release, the airline said three non-stop destinations would be available each week from the Edmonton International Airport to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Phoenix-Mesa.
“Flights to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean are exempt from current health restrictions that prevent international flights from landing in Edmonton,” the news release read.
The weekly flights to Mexico will begin Oct. 31 while the Phoenix flight launched Oct. 25. Swoop also started a non-stop Toronto flight from Edmonton on Oct. 25.
“Safety and security is our top priority, and we’re confident EIA is ready for these flights in close partnership with the airlines and health authorities,” said Myron Keehn, EIA’s vice-president of air service and business development.
“These flights will make it possible for local travellers, including snowbirds, to still get their traditional winter break.”
The announcement comes as Edmonton has seen a swift rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks.
The Edmonton zone currently has the highest active COVID-19 case count in the province, with 1,751 active as of Friday out of a total of 3,651 in Alberta.
That means that nearly 48 per cent of active Alberta cases are in the Edmonton area. The zone also remains under increased voluntary public health measures.
However, Swoop said it believes the safety measures it has in place and evidence that transmission is not happening on flights will keep passengers safe.
“With the stringent health and safety measures we have put in place on every Swoop flight, travellers can be assured that now is the time to responsibly travel while remaining true to their budget,” said Charles Duncan, president of Swoop.
The airline and EIA said there are “extensive” cleaning programs in place. Swoop also screens travellers and enforces face masks for the duration of all flights.
The airline said it has added a new insurance service that covers its travellers to the U.S., Mexico and Jamaica with up to $100,000 in emergency medical and quarantine COVID-19 expenses for those who test positive during trips. It also has trip interruption coverage if the Canadian government changes travel advisories.
According to EIA officials, travel dropped by 96 per cent at the start of the pandemic, and while more people are travelling now, it’s still around 88 per cent lower than pre-COVID.
“People want to travel, they want to go to the sunny destinations,” said Steve Maybee, vice-president of operations and infrastructure at EIA.
“We live in northern Alberta. As soon as we get a few days of cold weather, people are itching to go somewhere,” he said.
“They want to travel, but they want to make sure their travel is safe.”
Swoop also said that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said the risk of contracting COVID-19 during a flight is considered very low risk.
Numbers from the association show that since the start of 2020, there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 reported where transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight (inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases).
The association said over the same period, some 1.2 billion passengers have traveled. That translates to one case per 27 million passengers.
Alberta is set to launch a pilot program in Calgary that would allow passengers to get a COVID-19 test when they enter Canada, which could reduce the time they are expected to quarantine. When it was announced, officials said it could potentially be offered in Edmonton in February.
EIA stopped receiving international flights on March 16 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced only four airports in Canada would continue to receive those flights.
EIA said it is working to launch its own saliva-based rapid testing trial.