Terrace travel agents are in overdrive to get stranded travellers back to the Northwest as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates.
Barb Petrick at Elan Travel said staff working from home, combined with staff in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, have helped hundreds of local clients cut their spring break short and get home as quickly as possible.
“Most of our clients are back. They reached out to us early on and we were able to get them home,” Petrick says. “But for others, I don’t think they realized how urgent this situation was until the last few days. Now they’re scrambling.”
Terrace’s Bert and Cathy Husband are among the thousands of Canadian vacationers navigating a new world of closed borders and airports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Terrace Standard publisher and his wife, a special education assistant, left for their ideal holiday to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on March 11, one day before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. They decided to end the holiday early on as the outlook deteriorated daily.
“It’s time to come home,” Bert says by phone March 22. “All these measures to contain the virus are necessary and I’ve got no problem with that.”
The Husbands were scheduled to return to Terrace via Calgary and Vancouver on March 30. But when the Puerto Vallarta to Calgary leg was cancelled the couple opted for the earliest departure date possible, which they have now secured for March 25.
Seat availability, wait times and new routing procedures to only four international airports in Canada have contributed to a unique new challenge for anxious travellers wanting to come home.
“We have people in Italy, Thailand, Mexico — we had people stuck in Peru but we were able to get them out 15 minutes before they closed the border,” Petrick says.
The situation in the country is one of many that prompted Canada’s federal government to arrange multiple flights with Canadian airlines to evacuate its citizens and permanent residents.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said however it won’t be possible for the government to repatriate all Canadians stranded abroad, adding the challenges the government faces are unprecedented with airport and airspace closures, border closures and the fact some countries have imposed martial law.
Global Affairs Canada has received 10,000 calls and 14,000 emails in a two-day period, he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging all Canadians abroad to return home by commercial means while options are still available, and to register with the government so they can receive proper updates.
“You need to do this if you haven’t done it already,” Trudeau says Monday in his daily press conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence in Ottawa.
Westjet and Air Canada will suspend the majority of their international flights by March 31 for at least one month.
Regionally, Terrace is the only Northwest airport Air Canada will continue flying to as of April. Last week the company announced nationwide suspension of service to select airports, including Sandspit, Prince Rupert and Smithers for the month of April.
Westjet will continue to service all domestic routes but flights will be reduced by about 50 per cent.
Mexico is one of the most popular destinations for Northwest vacationers. As of March 23 there were 251 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mexico. On March 22 the mayor of Puerto Vallarta called on residents to stay home.
Speaking from Puerto Vallarta Bert commended Air Canada for their cooperation with the federal government and communication with ticket holders during an otherwise chaotic period as both scheduled fights and re-bookings were scrubbed on a moment’s notice.
“It’s been a little like flight roulette,” Bert says. “But thanks to the reservations people in Terrace we’ve been able to get a flight home well ahead of our original plans.
“We’re lucky there hasn’t been a lot of COVID-19 cases in Mexico, but you hear of things back home, stores closing and all that… and you just want to be back in your community.”
The Husbands will go into immediate self-isolation for 14 days upon their return, Bert says.
– with files from Canadian Press