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Canada’s in dire need of a travel restart plan, say Air Canada and NACC

TORONTO — No one really expected Canada to be included on England’s ‘green’ list of travel destinations, not yet anyway.

So why are airlines and industry groups here so interested in the list? Because it’s part of a travel restart plan, something that’s sorely needed in Canada for the months ahead.

Britain’s list, released May 7 and effective May 17, follows the ‘traffic light system’ adopted by several other countries amid the pandemic. Countries are classified as green, amber or red. There are currently 12 countries on Britain’s ‘green list’, including Portugal, Israel, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. 

Canada and the U.S., and the majority of the world’s countries, are on the ‘amber’ list.

The green list just means that travellers coming back to England from those 12 approved countries don’t have to quarantine upon their return. It’s not a travel bubble, because the 12 countries may still have restrictions of their own. But it’s a step in the right direction, says Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC).



In the NACC’s statement McNaney said: “In the midst of the pandemic in February, the British government recognized the critical need to plan for the eventual safe re-opening of international travel, and began working with its aviation sector to develop a restart process.

“On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have lost their jobs in the aviation and travel sector, and the scores of communities that have lost service, it is critical that the federal government now follow the UK example and work immediately with industry to develop a restart plan.”

The NACC notes that Canada’s aviation sector has called on the federal government for months to develop a safe restart strategy that outlines the metrics that must be met to begin addressing border and travel restrictions. The strategy should utilize a science-based approach that sets out how Canada will deal with vaccinated and non-vaccinated passengers, how quarantine and testing measures will be adjusted, and how we will ensure appropriate electronic capture of health data to facilitate international travel.

Other industry groups including ACTA have long called for a restart plan too.

The NACC says that the travel plan from the British government demonstrates that countries can plan for the careful restart of travel and protect public health, while also providing the public and industry with clear information on the path forward.

“The UK plan provides metrics, clarity on process, and underscores that the government retains complete authority on timing and implementation, including the ability to reinstate restrictive measures. As the pace of vaccination increases across the country, there is no reason why Canada cannot develop a restart plan of its own that will allow the industry to start planning its recovery. Countries that establish a clear recovery strategy for their aviation sectors will not only ensure the safe restart of travel and their overall economy, they will take market share, investment and jobs from countries that do not. Canada must get moving,” said McNaney.



The NACC’s statement came on the heels of Air Canada’s Q1 conference call on Friday, where Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau called on the federal government to put an end to the hotel quarantine requirement, and to develop a reopening plan for international travel.

“The current mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals has proven ineffective. It should be eliminated,” said Rousseau.

“We believe that with a vaccination program now underway nationally, a modified and more relevant approach to testing and quarantine would keep Canadians safe while allowing our country to reopen for international travel,” he added.

Air Canada isn’t the only airline to call for the end of the hotel quarantine rule. WestJet has also made the same request to the federal government.

Rousseau said the government must develop and communicate a reopening plan as it is cautiously optimistic that the country is nearing an “inflection point” with the vaccination rate rising in the middle of a difficult third wave.

According to Canada’s COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker, close to 40% of Canadians have received their first dose, and millions more doses of Pfizer vaccine are arriving on Canadian soil in the coming weeks.

In the U.S., where the successful vaccination rollout has started to plateau, air travel is hitting the highest numbers seen since the start of the pandemic. More than 1.6 million travellers were screened at U.S. airports this past Sunday, another record high.

Meanwhile the EU is moving ahead with its Digital Green Pass system of COVID-19 vaccination certificates with an eye to allowing travel within the 27-country EU bloc this summer, and potentially for fully vaccinated Americans as well.

“After over 14 months of restrictions, Canadians, who we know are eager to travel, want and deserve clear guidelines. They want to know when they will be able to travel internationally again and under what protocols,” said Rousseau.

He said Air Canada expects domestic travel will lead its recovery, as was the case in the U.S. Peak summer leisure travel in July and August, including to Europe, is expected to be pushed to September and October. Meanwhile corporate travel likely won’t come back until after Labour Day, said Air Canada’s chief commercial officer, Lucie Guillemette.

Rousseau and Guillemette said Air Canada is seeing strong demand through next winter to Mexico, the D.R., Hawaii and Florida as Canadians anticipate their first post-pandemic holiday.

Analyst Cameron Doerksen of National Bank Financial expects air traffic will ultimately rebound strongly, but only if restrictions are lifted. “Our near-term caution is rooted in our belief that the Canadian government-imposed air travel restrictions are not set to be materially eased in time to salvage much of the upcoming peak summer travel period,” he wrote in a report.

Air Canada announced its $5.9 billion deal with the federal government for federal aid last month. Demand for refunds is slower than expected despite reaching out to customers proactively, says the airline.

Last week Air Canada reported a Q1 loss of $1.3 billion. Revenue in the quarter totalled $729 million, down from $3.7 billion in the first three months of 2020.

Capacity was down 82.1% compared with a year ago, while traffic was down 89.5%. Air Canada plans to almost double its Q2 capacity from the same quarter in 2020, but says compared with the same period in 2019 that Q2 capacity is expected to be down 84%.

Earlier this year the federal government secured agreements from Air Canada as well as WestJet, Sunwing and Transat to cancel winter sun flights until April 30. Air Canada stuck with its plan to offer just three sun destinations in May 2021 (Bridgetown, Kingston and Mexico City), and those flights are geared to essential workers and cargo.

The federal government has extended Canada’s travel restrictions until at least May 21. Last month Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told Travelweek: “Air Canada will extend its suspension of Sun flying throughout May. We will continue to operate some flights to Mexico City, Barbados, and Kingston, but these would not carry passengers south. Instead, they will provide essential services, for example carrying cargo and in some cases on northbound flights, temporary foreign workers and Canadians currently abroad. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our network as appropriate, as well as work with the government to develop a safe reopening plan and restore travel.”

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press


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