Canadian snowbirds find creative way to get to Florida – with their cars – despite border closure

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Until a few weeks ago, Canadian snowbird Diane Rood and her husband, Theo, were unsure if they were going to be able to make it to their Florida winter getaway this year, given crossing restrictions linked to COVID-19 . the border by car.

“I have arthritis. The idea of ​​staying in Canada with our cold and wet weather just seemed inconceivable, ”she said.

The couple from Lambton Shores, Ont., Who still travel to Florida, considered taking a commercial flight. But that would mean not having a vehicle when they arrive. Plus, they would have to ditch their beloved black Labrador Abby.

After listening to his mother’s reproaches, Jeremy Rood, a helicopter pilot with Great Lakes Helicopter in Cambridge, Ont., Contacted a friend, Greg McClay, who operates a commercial trucking company, GRM Transportation, in Dorchester, Ont. . It turned out that her grandparents faced the same dilemma.

After some brainstorming, they found a solution.

McClay took the personal snowbirds vehicles across the border in his flatbed truck to Buffalo Airport, while Rood transported the owners of the cars – as well as pets – across the border. from the border in his helicopter to the same airport. Once disembarked, owners could simply get into their vehicles and be on their way, driving approximately 2,000 kilometers of road to Florida.

“It solved all of our problems,” Rood’s mother said on Monday.

“It was as smooth as silk. … Within minutes, we were out of the helicopter and to our car.

Since they recently announced their solution on the Canadian Snowbirds in Florida Facebook group, Rood and McClay say they’ve received hundreds of inquiries. They’ve made a handful of trips already, and as of Monday afternoon, 35-40 more trips have been booked.

“It was an exceptional year. We have a roadblock that has been put in place. But there is a way around it. We are doing this to get people there, so they can enjoy and be healthier. It makes me happy, ”said Rood.

“It’s not a loophole,” he added. “We are just operating within the means of the system.”

Rood said he checked with US officials beforehand to make sure everything was legal.

“It’s totally permissible,” he says. “Americans welcome us with a smile. … They are happy to have us.

Asked for comment, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jason Givens asked the Star to review travel restrictions in the United States.

These regulations currently restrict entry into the United States through the land border to people on “essential travel”. This includes those who need medical attention, go to school or work in the United States, public health officials, truck drivers, and military families.

“Essential travel does not include tourism purposes, such as sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events. “

The current restrictions are in place until at least November 21.

After The Star insisted on getting a more direct response, an American customs officer replied: “If a Canadian’s vehicle is legitimately imported into the United States and the Canadian arrives by air, it is not considered a violation of travel restrictions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives from the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada referred their inquiries to their US counterparts.

Currently, Rood and McClay charge their clients $ 1,900 – $ 1,200 for the helicopter flight and $ 700 for ground transportation. They are currently flying from Hamilton to Buffalo, but are looking to add another route from Windsor to Detroit.

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“I’ll bet you I got 200 phone calls in the first few days. It was so much to follow. I’m on the phone for five minutes and you get three more calls, ”McClay said.

McClay said he could haul up to three vehicles at a time on his trailer. Owners must provide him with a detailed list of personal effects that they have packed in their vehicle for presentation to customs officials.

McClay said he also coordinated a few trips with another carrier, BlueStar Air Services, which takes snowbirds from London to Detroit.

Owner Ryan Charlton said he could take up to six people at a time in his fixed-wing plane. He charges a flat rate of $ 2,500 for the flight.

“The (American) customs officials are very happy to see us. They say, “Take advantage of our country and enjoy Florida”. It’s pretty refreshing for those snowbirds, that’s for sure.

Because snowbirds tend to be older, they like the safety of traveling in a private plane, perhaps with a few close friends, and of avoiding crowded airport terminals, he said.

“We’re just playing by the rules, aren’t we?” Charlton said. “These are the rules. The land border is closed. You are still allowed to fly. It is not necessarily a loophole. That’s just what’s legal right now.

Colleen Bobor, of Stratford, Ont., Said she doesn’t see any issues either.

She and her father, Grant Brunne of Beaverton, Ont., Took one of Rood’s helicopter tours last Friday in Buffalo with Shih Tzu, Mojo de Brunne and her Cockapoo, Buddy. It was their first time on a helicopter.

“My father, it was a thrill for him. He was so excited, ”Bobor said.

She said she worried about whether they would be able to make their annual trip this year to their home in Bonita Springs, Florida. There was no way her father would have flown without his dog, she said.

” It was wonderful. I cannot say enough good things about it.

Meanwhile, Diane Rood said she and her husband were secluding themselves comfortably in their home in Cape Coral, Florida.

“I am at home. I have my shopping. I have my dog. I’m as happy as possible, ”she says.

“We are grateful to be here. It was so easy for us. No stress at all. “



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