Travel agencies

Calgary travel agencies try to navigate new COVID testing rules

Content of the article

Calgarians who had booked vacation packages or flights earlier in the year are now trying to navigate a series of rapid changes aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, travel agents say.

Advertising

Content of the article

By next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors traveling to the United States by air will be required to take a COVID-19 test no later than 24 hours before departure, marking a shorter timeframe than the window. previous 72 hours.

Meanwhile, Canada has for now exempted American visitors from its strict new rules, which require all other foreign air travelers to get tested on arrival and self-isolate while awaiting results. This is on top of a travel ban to Canada that bars foreign travelers who have been to any of the 10 listed countries, with Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt added to the ban on Tuesday.

A White House memo outlining the new rules for those flying to the United States makes no mention of land borders, or whether fully vaccinated Canadians driving south would be required to show a test result. Currently, no such test is required to enter the United States by land.

Advertising

Content of the article

Katie Kewley, a travel consultant with Vision Travel in Calgary, said demand for vacation bookings was skyrocketing before the Omicron variant emerged, but travel inquiries declined last week.

Officers are now trying to figure out the new 24-hour negative test requirement for Canadians traveling to the United States. From experience, she said travel agents know the rules can change from hour to hour.

“What we tell our clients is take it day by day, it’s very volatile,” she said. “If anything, it only reinforces the argument that people need travel agents.”

The new US testing requirement has caused some panic among people used to taking PCR tests that take longer than the 24-hour window to get results, she said. Rapid antigen tests purchased at Costco or Shoppers Drug Mart can provide results within a day, but demand is high right now, she said.

Advertising

Content of the article

“It’s just really hard to get an appointment,” she says. “If you’re leaving soon, you need to start getting the test now, even if you won’t take the test until 24 hours before departure.”

Altogether, Kewley said the Canadian government should spell out in writing what the changes mean for travelers when they’re announced, as information on the government’s website may be outdated or incomplete. For example, advice for travelers who need to connect to another domestic flight after arriving in Canada is unclear online, she said.

A family checks in for their flight to the United States at Calgary International Airport on Thursday.
A family checks in for their flight to the United States at Calgary International Airport on Thursday. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

“When they get to Calgary, are they detained until they get a negative test? If they are, where are they staying? Will someone change their connecting flight? These are things they haven’t put on (the government website),” she said.

Advertising

Content of the article

Karen Smith, owner of Boulevard Travel, estimated that PCR tests cost around $150 each and turnaround times can vary. Shoppers’ rapid antigen tests are more affordable, around $35, with a 30-minute turnaround time.

Airlines also offer home test kits. Air Canada has partnered with Switch Health to sell rapid home antigen tests for $40 each, and last week the WestJet Group announced an expansion of its program with AZOVA to offer home test kits, with results in 11 to 30 minutes.

But Smith said the US government’s new 24-hour testing window hasn’t been a problem – it actually makes more sense given that travelers have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in a window of 72 hours. Other travel restrictions issued by Canada have caused more headaches for travellers, she said.

Advertising

Content of the article

According to the federal government’s website, all travelers must provide a negative test within 72 hours of a scheduled flight to Canada and then self-isolate until results are obtained. However, rapid antigen tests, which tend to be cheaper and faster, are not accepted.

Boulevard Travel is also working to bring back a Canadian women’s junior field hockey team from South Africa, after the team was grounded due to travel bans, Smith said. Flights have since been booked from Johannesberg to Canada on December 8, but the journey for the athletes will be a long one.

“We booked for December 8 to go through Germany, but now Canada says we have to get retested that day in our transit town. Then they have to self-quarantine until they get their test results – and this is not an antigen test – even before they arrive in Canada. Then they do another test,” Smith explained. “How do you find the logistics? »

With files from The Canadian Press

[email protected]

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

Advertising

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.