The federal government has announced Canada’s major airlines will suspend service to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico starting this Sunday until April 30 as more infectious variants of COVID-19 continue to spread.
All international passenger flights must land at only four airports in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.
The Calgary Airport Authority said it is working with the federal government and airline partners to implement the changes.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on our airport and there will be further significant business impacts arising from these new requirements,” said Reid Fiest, Calgary Airport Authority external communications and media relations manager.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a new mandatory PCR testing requirement at airports for people returning to Canada. Trudeau said while these travellers wait for this COVID-19 test result, they’ll be forced to quarantine for up to three days at a designated hotel – on their own dime.
Trudeau added that the cost for this is “expected to be more than $2,000.”
“Foreign travel, international travel, travel of any kind is just something you don’t want to do; it’s not the time for it,” Calgary-based aviation industry analyst Rick Erickson said.
“They put some very very tight restrictions on what already was a fairly difficult environment to ensure that Canadians – it’s not as though it’s impossible, it’s not as though you can’t come back to the country, but, boy, there are some very large fences that we hadn’t seen before.”
Erickson said suspending travel to popular sunspot destinations will be a major financial hit on Canada’s airline industry, particularly because the suspension is happening at a time when Canadians typically travel to warmer climates.
“If it’s -20C, those sunspot destinations are really attractive. A lot of Canadians are in that pattern, a lot of Canadians have property abroad,” he said.
“If you want to travel, it’s still possible but you better have deep pockets, you better be able to live with uncertainty, you better be able to understand risk and the like, and it’s going to be very, very difficult to go travel abroad.”
Fiest said the Calgary Airport Authority will continue to advocate for federal government assistance for the air transportation industry amid the latest changes.
“To date, there has been no meaningful aviation sector support despite many of the most recent government policies having a significant adverse impact of Canada’s airports and airlines,” Fiest said.
“We acknowledge the Prime Minister recognized the dramatic impact of the pandemic on our industry and we hope to see urgent action and support.”
Erickson believes the suspension of sunspot destination flights signals the federal government is prepared to announce an assistance package for Canada’s airline industry.
“There’s got to be a tradeoff; I believe that tradeoff is finally some kind of financial compensation package and I’m listening with open ears as to what that’s going to be because we definitely want to ensure that Canadian carriers coming through this pandemic are on some kind of solid footing,” he said.
On Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the federal government is developing an assistance package for Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace industry, but did not provide specifics.
“Our government understands that a strong air sector is vital for Canada’s economy and the well-being of Canadians,” Alghabra said.
“With passenger levels still down almost 90 per cent, airlines have been forced to take drastic measures to remain viable. The sector cannot respond to these challenges on its own.”
The new measures are aimed at discouraging travellers from taking non-essential trips outside of the country, amid numerous reports that some Canadians have been escaping the chilly winter with vacations to sunny destinations.
Cases linked to international travel account for just two per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada. The measures come amid an uncomfortable reality about the number of travellers that are skipping quarantine measures altogether.
More than 6.3 million travellers who have entered Canada since the start of the pandemic were not required to quarantine, according to new figures Global News obtained Thursday from the Canada Border Services Agency.
—With files from Rachel Gilmore, Andrew Russell