REGINA — News that the federal government has lifted the last remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions is being welcomed at Regina International Airport.
The federal government announced Monday that all the remaining COVID-19 border restrictions will be lifted this Saturday, Oct. 1. Those include mandatory vaccination, randomized COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, mask mandates and the mandatory use of the ArriveCan app.
James Bogusz, president and CEO of Regina Airport Authority, called it a ”big move for Canada” and it was welcomed by the airport.
“All in all, this is all positive,” said Bogusz. “The big deal is it opens up the skies for all Canadians and also all visitors to our country once again. This is exactly where we need to be. Whether you’re a hotelier or an airport or airline, maybe you’re a tourist attraction, or maybe you just want friends or family to visit easily, now is the time and it’s going to be after October 1. So, certainly supportive and we applaud the government for finally moving ahead with this, this is long overdue and we’re ready.”
Bogusz said they had been advocating for some time with the federal government to revisit the restrictions and to effectively remove them.
In Canada, Bogusz said the requirements that were maintained, particularly the vaccination requirement, were “deterring people from leaving the country.” He described the mandatory quarantine requirements as a “massive deterrent” for those who didn’t choose to be vaccinated.
As for the ArriveCan app, which passengers had to fill out prior to returning to Canada to confirm their vaccination status, the main issue for Regina airport had always been the mandatory nature of the app.
“Our airport has always been supportive, and this is going back years, of what I call technology that adds value to your travel that is optional,” said Bogusz. He pointed to things like checking in online or using computer kiosks at an airport.
“But they’re always optional. Never have I seen something being mandatory that had such a significant circumstance for customers.”
Bogusz said he heard “massive frustration” from people who felt they were forced to use an app that they didn’t want to use or were challenged using. He also said a lot of people were “feeling fatigue” from the COVID masking and other requirements.
“The majority of people who are travelling, they’re ready to move on,” said Bogusz.
In terms of how busy the airport expected to be with passenger traffic, Bogusz noted that with the restrictions in place the passenger levels ended up tapping off at around 75 to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
“Thankfully, the government’s listened, they’re going to be repealing all of these measures on Oct. 1, and I should stress this point, this is all pandemic measures. So, we’re talking about vaccination, we’re talking about randomized COVID testing, ArriveCan’s going optional, and even the COVID health checks that were done in the past — all of it will be done away with and you’ll essentially be travelling pre-pandemic.”
One important note for those going to the United States is that the government there has not yet announced a change to their vaccination policy, although “we anticipate changes in the future.”
Situation has been more relaxed in USA for a while
The travel experience at airports in the United States has been far more relaxed for a while. Bogusz noted the far different situation he encountered when going to the United States to attend a conference last week.
“I can tell you firsthand, and I saw it with my own eyes, it’s is a very different world down there in terms of COVID measures, or really, just not having COVID measures,” he said.
There were no masking requirements on aircraft for travelling domestically in the United States, and at the conference itself people were shaking hands. “It was pre-pandemic days.”
Airports in the United States have also been busy, again with the lack of COVID-19 restrictions cited. Bogusz noted in the United States there were days when those airports there overachieved pre-pandemic numbers, particularly around the Labour Day weekend.
“The United States have been well ahead because they’ve had far fewer restrictions, and again the vaccination mandate is the only thing that they had retained. There haven’t been masking requirements, domestic travel has been for both vaccinated and unvaccinated for the entire pandemic, whereas in Canada up until June of this year you have to be vaccinated even to travel within the country.”
With restrictions lifted in Canada, Bogusz is expecting an uptick back closer to those pre-pandemic numbers for the Regina airport.
The hope is also that the lifting of restrictions will play a role in reducing the issues with lineups and congestion problems seen at other major airports such as Toronto, though Bogusz expects that will take some time to fully resolve.
More international flights coming
With the restrictions for international travel coming to an end, the Regina airport can expect to see more international flights to sun destinations this winter.
WestJet recently announced it was the resuming international direct flights from Regina to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando and also to Mexico.
Bogusz said they are still in discussions with Sunwing and expect to finalize those in the next week or so. He said they are anticipating getting at least the minimum of what they had last year for destination, but the hope is for greater frequency of flights and for more dates earlier in the season.