Politics

At least 50,000 flight reservations have been cancelled since mandatory COVID-19 testing was introduced

Airlines have seen at least 50,000 flight reservations cancelled since the federal government introduced mandatory pre-departure COVID-19 testing for travellers returning to Canada.

Travellers returning to Canada must show negative results from test taken before departure

Travellers and airline staff walk through Pearson airport in Toronto on Dec. 21, 2020. Airlines have reported over 50,000 travel reservation cancellations since mandatory pre-flight testing for returning travellers was introduced earlier this month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Airlines have seen at least 50,000 flight reservations cancelled since the federal government introduced mandatory pre-departure COVID-19 testing for travellers returning to Canada.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra shared the figure, citing data reported to Transport Canada by domestic airlines and international carriers that operate flights to Canada.

"As part of the broader effort to prevent the spread of the pandemic, the Government of Canada has consistently advised Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel," Amy Butcher, communications director for the minister, wrote in an email. 

"On December 31, 2020, the government announced new pre-test requirements for passengers seeking to fly to Canada from other countries. Not surprisingly, this has led to a decline in future bookings."

The new rule took effect on Jan. 7, 2021. It requires all travellers over the age of five to produce proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken no longer than 72 hours before boarding a flight to Canada.

The federal government announced the new testing regime following multiple reports of prominent Canadians — including political figures — travelling abroad for the holidays in defiance of government advisories against non-essential travel.

The government was also facing pressure at the time from premiers — primarily Ontario's Doug Ford — to crack down on international travel to reduce the risk of importing COVID-19 from other countries.

The requirement was unpopular with Canadian airlines, which said said they weren't consulted about the new policy before it was announced. They lobbied unsuccessfully to delay the rollout by two weeks, which they argued was necessary to ensure an orderly transition.

Travellers reported confusion and anxiety in the days following the testing requirement as many struggled to find legitimate laboratory tests because the government did not initially offer a list of locations where the tests could be obtained. 

Five days after the implementation of the new rule, the federal government launched a website for passengers travelling to Canada that lists accredited testing sites in some countries.

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