North

Yellowknifer fears being stranded in Ecuador after Air Canada suspends flights

When Stephen Peterson heard the Ecuadorian government was closing the airport to incoming flights, he cut his planned trip short and hightailed it to the country's capital. But he was too late.

Stephen Petersen caught the last bus to Quito, only to find the airport was already closed

Stephen Petersen caught the last bus from the beach town of Montañita and then managed to find a van heading to Quito. But when he got there, the airport was already closed. (Submitted by Stephen Peterson)

Stephen Petersen says it took him two days to get back to Quito from the coast of Ecuador. 

The Yellowknifer hightailed it back to the capital when he got a text from Foreign Affairs last weekend. The travel advisory said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ecuadorian government was closing the airport to incoming flights. 

"I thought at least if something happened here [Quito] I could react fairly quickly and get on a plane."  

Petersen managed to get one of the last buses out of the beach town of Montañita, and then took a van to Quito before the country restricted travel between communities. 

But he was too late.

Out of luck

The Ecuadorian government shut down the airport while Petersen was still en route, and Air Canada suspended flights until May

"Air Canada did respond to me and they said we're out of luck," Peterson said. "They're not planning on coming here anytime soon. And the country is locked down until April 5."

Petersen, boarding a train for the coast, after he arrived in Ecuador. He says he had no idea in early March that things could change so quickly. (Submitted by Stephen Peterson)

Now, Peterson is looking for assurances the Canadian government is going to act before then to get him and other Canadians out of Ecuador. 

Petersen said the embassy helped them with a list of grocery stores and pharmacies, but "didn't really have a clue what was going on as far as flights."  

He said although the airport is closed, the Ecuadorian government has said they're open to repatriation flights. 

"I'm just wondering why Air Canada isn't doing that," Petersen said. "Because I understand they've sent planes to Bogota, [Columbia] and other places to pick people up."  

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they're working on it. 

By the time Peterson left the coast on Monday, the beaches in Montañita were virtually empty. (Submitted by Stephen Peterson)

"I spoke ... with the heads of our two large airlines, Westjet and Air Canada, to talk about how we can work with them to ensure there are flights to bring Canadians home," he said.  

Foreign Affairs also responded to CBC's questions in an email, saying it's aware of Canadians in Ecuador. 

"We strongly recommend that Canadian travellers follow the advice of local authorities regarding how best to protect their health and safety, such as social distancing or self-isolating, as appropriate," the email reads.

According to Global Affairs Canada, there are currently more than 2,677 Canadians who have registered with the department's Canadians Abroad service in Ecuador. 

However, there could be more, since the registration is voluntary.  

'We have no planes to take'

Erica Lepp, another Canadian in Ecuador, wrote to CBC, saying there's a group of 32 Canadians at her hotel in Quito.

They were visiting the Galapagos Islands, 1,000 kilometres off Ecuador's coast when their flight was cancelled, but they made their way to the airport on the main island anyway. Eventually, they were offered a $400 ticket to Quito.

Lepp said they were screened on arrival then made it to an airport hotel.

Erica Lepp, front row, third from right, is part of a group of 32 Canadians trapped in Ecuador. Air Canada has suspended flights to Quito until May. (Submitted by Erica Lepp)

Now she's concerned people in her group with health issues may run out of medication.  

"Our problem is not that Ecuador will not allow flights to depart, our problem is that we have no planes to take," she wrote, adding she hopes Canada will follow other countries sending planes to get their citizens home. 

Staying put

Petersen said he's connected with a large group of Canadians in Ecuador on social media and they're trying to support each other. 

"The group is awesome and pressures are being put on airlines, embassy, and politicians." 

While some are heading to the airport daily, Petersen isn't. 

There's not much to do in Quito, with churches and tourist sites shut down, and a curfew in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

Still, Petersen said he has a great view of the quiet city from his bed and breakfast. 

"The best tactic for me, quite frankly, is to stay put until something develops," he said, with a chuckle. 

 "I can't conjure a plane and there's no other way of leaving this country."

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