It’s one thing to know that travel agent associations are lobbying the government on agents’ behalf. It’s another to actually hear it and see it in action.
TORONTO — Canada has essentially launched its first ‘safe corridor’ with the unveiling of a new testing program with the State of Hawaii.
Hawaii Governor David Ige, who announced the news yesterday at a press conference, confirmed that the state has partnered with Air Canada and WestJet to begin offering a pre-flight COVID-19 testing program for Canadians, allowing them to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“Hawaii has the most rigorous pre-testing travel program in the country and we’re grateful to Air Canada and WestJet for making it available to their passengers,” said Governor Ige. “As it gets colder there are many Canadians who want to travel and return to Hawaii. We especially look forward to having our Canadian snowbirds home in Hawaii for the winter season.”
Starting mid-December, travellers flying from Canada to Hawaii may bypass Hawaii’s quarantine if they take a COVID-19 test from labs approved and identified by either airline. The test must be taken within 72 hours of travel to the State of Hawaii, and a negative test result must be received prior to departure. Travellers without proof of a negative test result prior to boarding their flight to Hawaii will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, or the length of their stay, whichever is shorter.
All visitors intending to visit Hawaii must also register prior to travel. More details can be found here.
WestJet will begin the testing program in partnership with DynaLIFE in Alberta for guests holding a WestJet-ticketed itinerary to Hawaii within 72 hours. Although the test, which costs $150 per person and is payable by the guest, is currently only available in Alberta, it is open to all Canadian residents. Passengers will then be required to display their negative test result prior to boarding.
Earlier this week, WestJet announced its December schedule including twice-weekly, nonstop Dreamliner service between Calgary and Honolulu, and Calgary and Maui.
Angela Avery, EVP General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at WestJet who attended yesterday’s press conference via Zoom, said that she’s personally “thrilled” about the program.
“We’ve got at least a foot of snow in Calgary so thank you for having us back,” she said. “It’s really exciting for us to know that Hawaii really is the very first place that is a safe corridor for travel from Canada. We look forward to stimulating air travel and creating new opportunities for guests between our two countries.”
Avery also noted that Hawaii’s new program marries well with the new testing pilot program at Calgary International Airport, which allows passengers who test negative within 48 hours upon landing to shorten the duration of their quarantine. Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for all passengers arriving in or returning to Canada was last extended on Nov. 2 and is set to expire on Nov. 30.
“I can speak to it personally,” added Avery. “I flew to the U.S. last weekend and on my return I was able to be tested at the airport and the quarantine was effectively lifted less than 48 hours later. So now it’s safe to travel on both sides of the border – we’ve really managed to reduce quarantines for our guests.”
According to Timothy Liu, Air Canada’s Managing Director of Sales Planning who also took part in yesterday’s conference remotely, more information about Air Canada’s approved labs and the steps involved to get tested will be clearly laid out on its website in the next few days.
“We want to make sure that the process is seamless for all customers, that we provide all the right information and that all partners who have signed up to work with us are final and ready to go,” said Liu.
He did note, however, that customers will essentially be advised to go the Hawaii Safe Travels website to register and access information on testing facilities that have been approved by Air Canada. They will then be instructed to obtain a test within 72 hours prior to departure, during which time they are not required to quarantine (“but of course, we expect them to be cautious given that they will be travelling to Hawaii”).
After customers receive their test result, they will upload them onto the Hawaii Safe Travels website and receive their QR code, which will then be verified along with the test results at the airport.
“We believe that there will be much interest in travel to Hawaii. We’re definitely monitoring the interest coming from our booking data and we’re making sure that we have as much possible seats available out there,” said Liu. “Based on feedback that we’ve had from the trade, there is a lot of excitement about Hawaii and we do believe that it will be a positive market.”
NEW CHANGE TO SAFE TRAVELS HAWAII
The new pre-travel testing program for Canadians is part of the comprehensive Safe Travels Hawaii program, which was launched on Oct. 15. The program’s pre-travel testing option gives travellers an alternative to Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.
According to Lt. Governor Josh Green, in just a little over 30 days, Hawaii has seen a total of 186,969 visitors and 86,051 residents go through the program. A total of 243,140 individuals have been exempted by the program, while 7,217 did not qualify and were mandated to quarantine.
With numbers as “gigantic” as these, said Green, it’s worth noting that Hawaii’s COVID-19 rates are the lowest in the United States.
“This means that we’ve been able to do Safe Travels, we’ve been able to restore some hope to our people in advance of the holidays and we’ve been able to keep people healthy,” added Green, who also noted that most of Hawaii’s spread is not due to incoming travellers.
However, Governor Ige announced yesterday that the Safe Travels Hawaii program has been updated following recent positive test results from 44 travellers. “It isn’t a large number but it’s enough to change the policy,” he said.
So starting Nov. 24, travellers wishing to bypass the state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine must have their COVID-19 test results from a trusted testing partner prior to departure for the State of Hawaii. If test results are not available before boarding the final leg of their trip, the traveller must quarantine for 14 days or the length of their stay, whichever one is shorter.
The updated policy, added Governor Ige, applies to domestic transpacific flights and international flights departing from locations in which pre-testing programs are in place.
“We’re adding this safety precaution now in response to the dramatically increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the continental United States and around the world,” he said. “As an island community, we must take precautions to ensure that our hospitals have the staff, equipment and supplies needed to care for those in need of treatment, whether they have the coronavirus or any other medical condition.”