Ottawa’s move to temporarily pause random COVID-19 testing for inbound international travellers at airports could provide much-needed relief to Canadians that have for weeks suffered delays and prolonged wait times.
Many of Canada’s airports have welcomed the news that came on the heels of the U.S. dropping testing requirements for international tourists.
“This is welcome news for the upcoming summer travel season as it is expected to reduce the processing time,” a senior communications adviser for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Toronto Pearson International Airport, told Global News in a statement Friday evening.
“Of course, there are many factors that cause congestion, including staffing, but the government of Canada’s agility to temporarily pause testing is an indication of their commitment to working with stakeholders to improve the airport experience for family and business travellers,” the statement said.
Last month, nearly half a million passengers faced delays on international flights at Pearson airport. This was about half of all arrivals from abroad, according to Greater Toronto Airports Authority statistics.
Former one-time Edmonton Oilers defenceman, Ryan Whitney, called the airport “hell on earth,” while travelling through Pearson on his way to Boston.
Hours-long lineups, being held on the tarmac without food or waiting while waiting for a turn to enter the airport, missing connections and delayed flights have also been reported among travellers.
In Saskatchewan, airports are also pleased with the government’s decision to pause random testing for international travellers.
“We hope this change will help ease the pressure the Canadian airport system has been facing recently and allow Canadians to experience a smoother journey as we get back to travel this summer,” CJ Dushinski, vice-president of business development and service quality at Skyxe Saskatoon Airport, said to Global News in a statement Friday.
At the Edmonton International Airport, Steve Maybee, vice-president of operations and infrastructure, also told Global News the decision is supported.
“Any reduction in time-consuming processes would positively impact the passenger experience and wait times at Canadian airports, which in turn would improve the perception of travel within Canada, leading hopefully to an increase in inbound tourism,” he said.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, made up of industry groups including Canada’s airports, still urge the government to get rid of test requirement altogether and lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions — including vaccine mandates for passengers and staff.
“Canada’s outdated rules are causing unacceptable delays at the country’s major airports, keeping international visitors away and souring Canada’s reputation on the world stage,” the roundtable said in a statement Friday evening.
Scott Mason, general manager of Landsea Tours in British Columbia, told Global News he expects to see a slight spike in tourism with the new airport testing changes for international travellers.
“It will help,” he said.
B.C.’s Vancouver International Airport also welcomed the news.
“Today’s announcement is a welcome step forward for the travel and tourism industry,” said Mike McNaney, Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer at Vancouver Airport Authority, in a statement online.
Although random testing at airports will be temporarily suspended at all airports from June 11 to June 30, unvaccinated travellers will still be required to be tested on-site.
As of July 1, all testing, including for unvaccinated travellers, will be performed off-site, the government announced.
Across the border, the Biden administration will also drop pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements for air travellers effective June 12 at 12:01 a.m. ET.
Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, called lifting the testing rule “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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