Nova Scotia

New travel requirement keeps man out of Canada over Christmas

A Nova Scotia man says a lack of information about a new security document required to travel to Canada has ruined his family’s Christmas because his father didn't have it ready in time to board his flight.

Father spends holidays alone in England because he didn't fill out eTA document before flight

David Ashworth on a previous visit to Nova Scotia. This year, the 69-year-old from England missed his flight to Canada because he didn't have the necessary paperwork. (Mark Ashworth)

A Nova Scotia man says a lack of information about a new security document required to travel to Canada has ruined his family's Christmas. 

Mark Ashworth of Ellershouse, N.S., knew nothing about the need for an electronic travel authorization (eTA) when he booked a trip to Canada for his father, who lives in England, so the 69-year-old never made it to Halifax.

As of Nov. 9, an approved eTA is now required for travellers from Australia, France, the U.K. and more than 50 other countries in order to board a plane to Canada. American citizens as well as people from countries that require a visa are exempted.

The measure is part of Canadian Border Services Agency's new electronic information system. The federal government said it is meant to screen people before they arrive in the country.

No document, no flight

David Ashworth was scheduled to travel via Air Canada from London's Heathrow airport to Halifax on Dec. 23. While in Canada, he planned to attend his great-granddaughter Lillian's birthday party.

For his dad's trip, Mark Ashworth had requested wheelchair help for him because he has health issues and seldom flies.

"When he got to the desk, Air Canada staff said, 'You're not in our system for the eTA form,'" he told CBC News.

Ashworth said his dad told them he didn't know what an eTA was. He was given a tablet and told to fill out the form.

"He wasn't able to do it, so he kept repeatedly going back to the desk for help, but was told by Air Canada staff they were not permitted to help him with the form for security reasons," Ashworth said.

"He said in the end they were just fed up of seeing him."

Unable to complete form

The elder Ashworth was unable to complete the form partly because he didn't have a required email address and credit card. His flight left for Canada without him.

"That's the disappointing part for me, that nobody took ownership," Ashworth said about his father's experience.

That's the disappointing part for me, that nobody took ownership.- Mark Ashworth

"They could have said, 'Look Mr. Ashworth, I'm going to help you. I can't help you fill in the form but what's your son's number or here's a telephone. Call him.'"

'You think the worst'

Mark Ashworth was left waiting at the Halifax airport for his father after the plane emptied. Air Canada said it had no record of him.

"You think the worst," Ashworth said about his missing father.

"I know my dad. He has heart trouble, poor mobility and he gets confused because he's not used to airports and Heathrow is a very busy airport."

With no information from the airline, he contacted police in England. His father eventually called to say he had returned to his home. He had tried to call from a payphone at the airport, but couldn't make the call.

Ashworth has since learned he could have completed the eTA form for his father and received approval while he waited to board his flight.

Ottawa making adjustments, as needed

The eTA became an entry requirement on March 15, 2016, but a six-month leniency period was put in place to help travellers adjust and learn about it.

A spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an email to CBC News that Ottawa is doing everything it can to help travellers get the right travel documents. 

"We are closely monitoring what is happening at airports around the world and making adjustments, as needed," Lindsay Wemp wrote.

Government regrets impact on travellers

She said that includes quickly processing eTAs and special authorizations for those who qualify so they can make their flights.

Wemp acknowledges some travellers will not make their flights, something the government regrets.

She said the government has put in place an outreach campaign to inform travellers and travel agents of the change, as well as working with the air industry.

Flight booked with American Express

Ashworth also questions why he was never alerted to the requirement for an eTA at the time he booked his father's flight. He bought the Air Canada ticket using an American Express travel service.  

"The American Express person never mentioned it. There was no email from Air Canada about it," he said.

David Ashworth was planning to attend his great-granddaughter Lillian's birthday party while in Canada for the holidays. (Mark Ashworth)

He said the ticket and booking information didn't include any specific mention of the eTA, only a reminder to make sure you have the necessary documents, he said.

American Express spokeswoman Jolene Sonshine told CBC News in an email that when a card member calls to make a booking, "we advise them of any applicable travel authorization [including visas and eTAs], as well as applicable fees and of course the fact that they require a valid passport for travel."

American Express offers to pay for flight

However, Ashworth said, American Express has since been in contact with him, offering to pay for another flight from England for his father or a flight for him to visit his father. Initially, he was reimbursed the cost of his father's ticket, less cancellation fees. 

The company has also offered to pay for his father's bus fare between Manchester and Heathrow airport. In addition, American Express offered Ashworth 25,000 travel points.

Ashworth said he was also told by an American Express travel service manager that the company would be reviewing its training protocol to ensure the eTA is mentioned to customers during the booking process. 

Airline said eTAs 'a challenge'

In an email to CBC News, Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said staff are not permitted to help customers complete the form because of privacy issues, just as they can't help process passport applications or visa requests.

Arthur said Air Canada has been encouraging the government to do more to publicize its eTA requirement.

She said the airline has been using a variety of methods for the past year and a half to alert travellers, but because it affects people around the world, it has been "a challenge."


Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at