MONTREAL — Air Canada’s newly released June schedule with service to a handful of destinations in the Caribbean and Europe is an important first step in restarting travel, as Canadians adapt to life in a post-pandemic world. We talked to several agents to get their reaction to the move, announced to the trade by ACV.
While Air Canada’s operating schedule for June is certainly reduced, it includes service to Cancun, Varadero, Cayo Coco, Montego Bay, Barbados, Paris, Athens and Barcelona.
ACV’s Managing Director, Nino Montagnese tells Travelweek that packages through ACV will be based on resort availability, as some resorts remain closed amid the pandemic. ACV won’t have its full lineup, as in normal times, but then again, capacity is reduced as well. “We are only going into those destinations where we will have hotels to sell. We are set to go!” says Montagnese.
In a letter to the trade Montagnese said that “while the rapid evolution of the crisis has meant that we’ve had to be more agile in planning for the future, we believe we are all eager to begin restoring travel very soon.”
Montagnese’s letter came with a pages-long FAQ sheet for agents.
Air Canada CleanCare+, announced earlier this week, includes mandatory temperature checks and other safety practices to give passengers and crew peace of mind while travelling.
Montagnese adds: “As we have reiterated many times before; it is partnerships like ours that remain one of the biggest strengths in navigating through this crisis. While our industry must continue to adapt to our ever-changing realities, we are pleased to share the news of the gradual return of operations in June and look forward to sharing more news on our commitment to the safety of our customers and partners alike.”
“HATS OFF TO THEM FOR TRYING”
Agents are applauding the move, knowing that inquiries from clients will be few and far between at first. As many point out, someone had to take the first step.
Richard Vanderlubbe, President, tripcentral.ca, says that while he’s skeptical about load factors in the beginning, “hats off to them for trying more than anything.”
Vanderlubbe says: “The virus will be with us as a health risk until there is a vaccine. What’s changed since this all started is an elevated awareness of personal risk of contracting and transmitting disease. The rules have now changed where a passenger will not lose everything if they are denied boarding for a fever (we’ll see what happens with hotel packages). Someone has to start flying at some time, and it will be interesting to see the less risk-averse start and how it goes.”
He adds: “Whether it is now, or a month from now, the same risks will exist until there is a vaccine. People are getting more and more impatient with lockdown, and no matter how smart we think we are, human desire and risk tolerance is the same as our pre-technology, pre-mass communications days.”
Dean Dacko, Regional President, Uniglobe Travel (Eastern Canada), says Air Canada’s Lisa Pierce confirmed to Uniglobe this morning Air Canada’s plan to introduce the schedule for the rest of May and June, with July and the rest of the summer to come as the government-imposed travel restrictions are lifted.
Says Dacko: “The AC Clean Care + program is intended to build trust and confidence with the traveling public that they will be safe while starting to travel again both domestic and international. We at Uniglobe are very encouraged and anxious to work with our clients to provide them with the most up to date and important information to keep them safe and healthy as we begin to transition beyond this COVID 19 event.”
ACV has also launched its CareFlexPLUS for $29 per person, which Faith Sproule, Owner, Niche Travel Group in Dartmouth, NS says looks great. “It is for travel dates up until April 30, 2021! We can use this to have people rebook now for Nov/Feb/March,” says Sproule. She adds that she’d like to see Budapest, Prague or Edinburgh/Dublin on ACV’s destination list.
JUNE TOO SOON?
Michelle Whalen with Uniglobe Enterprise Travel says June is coming up soon, maybe too soon. “I’ve not had any clients chomping at the bit to go in the next couple of months. Most are waiting until November/December or even next year to go,” she says. “To my knowledge government restrictions have not been lifted for travel and won’t be any time soon.”
Whalen says travel advisors are working hard to balance optimism with their clients’ safety, health, and comfort levels, adding that ACV’s FlexCare and Air Canada’s CleanCare+ policies are positive for the consumer. The resort brands are introducing hygiene protocols as well. “All these measures are terrific starting steps in the right direction. Would my clients feel comfortable travelling in June? I don’t believe so … They’re going to take their cues from their travel advisor. Especially over the last few months we feel even more protective of our clients,” says Whalen.
“GIVING THE INDUSTRY A BIT OF HOPE”
Gilbert Manza, Owner, Executive Travel Services Inc. in Woodbridge, ON says the June flights are a shot in the arm for the industry. “I think it’s a good step in regards to giving the industry a bit of hope, that one of the largest tour operators and our country’s flagship carrier is moving ahead, albeit with certain procedures to mitigate risks. The bigger and main issue is how confident the public is with the procedures in place to lessen the risk of getting this virus while travelling, I believe personally that until the medical community comes up with some sort of therapy (not a vaccine as that is months to years away) that will address not only symptoms but recovery time, then I believe we can start seeing some sort of normalcy.”