Ferry phones lines, website swamped with bookings and inquiries

Northumberland Ferries fielded more than 600 phone calls Tuesday. Wait times topped one hour and the company's web site crashed as the Atlantic bubble opens.

Callers 'on hold' for more than an hour Tuesday

Many of the calls are inquiriers only, not bookings. Ferry officials say many people are looking for health and travel information. (Kevin Baillie)

Northumberland Ferries fielded more than 600 phone calls Tuesday as ferry service opens up to the general public on Friday as COVID-19 restrictions ease. Telephone wait times topped one hour and the company's website crashed.

Company officials call the situation "certainly not reasonable.

"But people were being very patient," said Don Cormier, vice-president of operations and general manager. "They really, really wanted to get through to our call centre."

A shortage of staff at the company's call centre in Nova Scotia may have contributed to the long wait times, according to Cormier.

"Because of COVID, the call centre had less resources than they otherwise might have been able to bring to manning the phones," said Cormier.

Callers were offered the option to receive a "call back" rather than remain on hold, according to Cormier.  Many chose to wait it out.

"I guess that's indicative of how important the ferry is," said Cormier.

Bring a face mask

Website problems were related to "international issues" according to Cormier, and not unique to the ferry service.

Many telephone callers were seeking general information about travel restrictions and health precautions, rather than calling to book crossings, he said.

Ferry officials are urging people to book ahead for the P.E.I. to Nova Scotia service. Passenger capacity on the ships' decks has been reduced by 50 per cent to permit physical distancing.

Passengers should bring their own face masks. They'll be worn when getting on and off the ferry, and in areas of the boat such as washrooms — where a physical distance of two metres from other people cannot be maintained.

The two ferries on the route are making six return trips daily, rather than the nine trips that would normally take place in July.

Despite the restrictions, the company says it still has "ample space" for Friday's inaugural crossings by the general public and in weeks to come.

The Wood Islands ferry has been open since May to essential commercial traffic.

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