Ottawa, Canadian airlines agree to suspend flights to Caribbean and Mexico

The federal government and Canada’s major airlines announced Friday that flights to sun destinations would be suspended until May in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Air Transat will be cancelling air service to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico from Jan. 31st until April 30th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in a press conference Friday.

The airlines will be making arrangements with customers currently travelling in the affected regions to organize their return flights, he added.

The new measures impact 15 Air Canada destinations and 14 WestJet destinations, according to the airline companies. Air Transat announced on its website that it was suspending its regular operations until the end of April as a result of these new restrictions.

Air Canada said it plans to operate a number of one-way commercial flights from affected destinations after Jan. 31 to bring customers back to Canada. The company said in a press release that customers impacted by the new rules “will be offered full refunds given the services are being suspended with no alternative available.”

WestJet said it was working to bring its guests already vacationing back to Canada over the next two weeks and would be notifying those booked to travel during the impacted period of their options. Air Transat also said it was working on a repatriation plan for all its customers and would announce details shortly.

Sunwing will offer full refunds to customers with cancelled bookings and is in the process of notifying travellers currently abroad about any changes to existing flights.

“This decision was not made lightly but something we deemed necessary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is based on ongoing collaboration with the government and the Canadian aviation industry,” a Sunwing spokesperson said in a statement.

Trudeau said the government appreciates how airlines worked quickly to repatriate Canadians in the early days of the pandemic and stressed the importance of staying home during the second wave.

“With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19 both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying.”

ADDITIONAL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS

In addition to these measures, Trudeau said all international passenger flights must land only in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal beginning next week.

The new measures follow Trudeau’s announcement that all travellers returning from overseas must take a COVID-19 PCR test at the airport when they land and quarantine in a designated hotel for up to three days at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2,000.

Those who test negative will be allowed to quarantine at home for the remainder of the mandatory two week period, but “under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement.” Those who test positive, however, must immediately quarantine in designated government facilities to ensure they are not carrying any of the variants that have caused concern around the world.

In the coming weeks, non-essential travellers will also be required to show a negative test before entry at the land border with the U.S., Trudeau said, adding that the government was working on additional testing requirements for land travel.

Conservatives criticized the Trudeau government for not acting sooner, but also called for a clearer timeline on when the restrictions would be eased.

“We were the first to call upon the government to secure the border at the start of the pandemic – the Liberals were too slow to act. We’re now a year into the pandemic and we aren’t using what we’ve learned from the first wave,” opposition leader Erin O’Toole said in a statement on Friday.

Trudeau said the government is enacting the tough measures now and is committed to a safe restart to travel and tourism as soon as conditions improve, “ideally, later this year.”

Ottawa and airlines will be working together on the future of COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, he added.

“This will enable the safe, gradual return to international air travel, grounded in science and evidence.”

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