Airlines Urge Gov’t to Delay COVID Testing while Tour Ops Hustle To Support Trade

Mark Stachiew / Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Photo by Govind Krishnan via Unsplash

As the public awaits an update from Minister of Transport Marc Garneau Wednesday afternoon about new COVID-19 pre-departure testing requirements for air passengers arriving in Canada, reports are emerging about briefings the government has held with the nation's airlines about the new rule.

According to a CBC report, airline sources say they were told they would be required to turn away anyone who doesn't have a negative test result taken within either 72 or 96 hours of the flight, depending on the location.

 

An executive at Transat told the Toronto Star that the new requirement has the potential for “mayhem” for Canadians trying to fly home from countries where COVID-19 tests are limited and is urging the federal government to delay the rule. Christophe Hennebelle, VP of human resources and corporate affairs for TS, says the new rule is forcing the airline to track down testing facilities for travellers in destination countries where “we are not yet reassured of the capacity,” such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic.


The CEOs of the country's largest airlines are also calling on Garneau to delay the rollout until at least 18JAN. The heads of Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing — as well as IATA and the NACC —have sent a letter to the transport minister warning him that the federal government's timeline for implementing the testing protocol isn't feasible.

Canadian Tour Ops Hustle to Help Trade, Gov't-Approved List of Testing Locations "Coming Soon" 

Canadian tour operators have been hustling to support travel advisors amid the uncertainty caused by the government's impending regulation. 

Responding to a request by Open Jaw, spokespeople for Air Canada Vacations, Transat and Sunwing say they have been providing travel advisors with lists of clinics near their client’s resort and additional resources to help them deal with the requirement. 

Sunwing has developed a preliminary list of testing facilities available in destination which it is providing to travel advisors, Melanie Anne Filipp, Director of Corporate Communications at Sunwing, told Open Jaw. Sunwing's in-destination representatives are also offering on-the-ground support, from guidance on accredited PCR testing facilities to coordinating transportation to and from a testing facility, if required. 

The Canadian government is expected to provide a list of approved testing locations "in the coming days," Filipp added. In the interim, travellers in destination will be able to take a PCR test from any testing facility so long as it is accredited by a government organization or professional association, or has ISO accreditation. 

Travel advisors have been "key" in relaying pertinent information to customers about the new travel requirements, said Filipp. 

"Our travel agent partners are extremely important for Sunwing. Our relationships with travel professionals are fundamental to our business model, and the value of the services and guidance that travel agents provide our mutual customers has never been more important. That’s why we strive to provide consistent, regular updates on the new testing requirements that are being mandated by the Canadian government, all in an effort to be transparent, and ensure they have the tools and resources to address customer questions or concerns," she said. 

Filipp suggests advisors continue to check the Sunwing Agent portal as well as the company's Agent Facebook Group for current updates. 

"Our Sales and Business Development Team is also available to offer agents additional support or guidance they may need. We know it’s a challenging time, but we will all get through this together and come out stronger on the other side," she added. 

Air Canada Vacations spokesperson Barbara Mengue Mbo says the tour operator has created an FAQ document to help the trade navigate the impending government requirement. 

"As we continue to understand and receive more information regarding the recent announcement surrounding the Government Testing Requirements, we have compiled an FAQ and a list of facilities at our destinations that offer PCR testing that can help guide travel agents in answering some questions, links to help them find more information and more education surrounding this," she says. 

"We are continually working hard to ensure we collect as much as we can to help assist travel agent partners and our mutual clients. Documents are available through Air Canada Vacations’ Travel agent website and Air Canada Vacations’ Inner Circle Facebook group. We recommend agents visit travel.gc.ca for official updates from the Government of Canada." 

Transat has created a list of laboratories offering COVID-19 PCR screening tests in its "Practical Guide", Marketing Director, Social Media and Public Relations Debbie Cabana told Open Jaw. The list has been updated on a regular basis since the federal government's announcement. 

The company also sent out an FAQ document for travel agents to answer their questions about the new requirement. 

"As the situation and regulations are evolving rapidly, we advise travel agents and travellers to regularly visit the Canadian Government Website," said Cabana.

Comments

Suzanne Marcus - January 6, 2021 @ 13:25
I think when a vacation from a Tour Operator is deposit and or paid in full there should be a 1800 number offered by the Tour Operator for the client to call for up to date regulations pertinent to their vacation.
It is beyond the capability of the travel agent to provide 100% legal regulations that would stand up in a court room should a client think they did not receive up to date legal instructions for exiting Canada and returning to Canada on their vacation. Trust me there will be some clients who are ****** who will try to do it and reclaim 100% of their vacation funds if valid Covid instructions are not provided by a travel agent. This will drive people to web sites to book where there is no one to consult when things go wrong.

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