Canadians denied boarding flights to Cuba and Mexico under new COVID-19 testing rules

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WestJet’s Boeing 737 Max aircraft on the ground are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary on May 7, 2019.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Vacationers trying to return home to Canada from tropical sunspots were denied seats on their return flights Thursday under new rules requiring anyone traveling to the country to prove they have passed a recent COVID test -19.

Ten passengers from WestJet Airlines Ltd. were not allowed to board their plane to Calgary from Cancun, Mexico, while eight Air Transat passengers were unable to catch their flight to Toronto from Holguin Airport from Cuba, the airlines said.

The two flights were the airlines’ first international return flights under a rule that came into effect Thursday that requires international passengers aged 5 and over to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 in the past. 72 or 96 previous hours, depending on the country.

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WestJet passengers presented gate staff with antibody or antigen test results, rather than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or loop-mediated isothermal amplification tests, said Morgan Bell, a spokesperson for WestJet. An antibody test shows whether a person is likely to have contracted the virus, not whether they are currently.

Customers have been changed for another flight day, and WestJet staff in Cancun are helping them find a place to take the right test. “This highlights the challenges facing travelers and our operations,” said Ms. Bell.

The federal government has repeatedly told Canadians to stay home and avoid non-essential travel to reduce the spread or capture of the virus that has killed more than 16,500 people in the country.

Patty Hajdu, the federal Minister of Health, said on Wednesday that travelers should expect to have difficulty obtaining tests in some countries, in part because countries are using their testing offerings to fight the pandemic.

“This is exactly why we advise people not to travel abroad,” Ms. Hajdu said at a press conference describing the new testing rule. “As more and more people are infected with COVID-19, more and more people are hospitalized and, of course, we are seeing, unfortunately, more people die. So stay home, cancel your trip if not absolutely necessary. “

Several countries, including France, Germany and Spain, have entry requirements that include COVID-19 testing, either before or upon admission.

The airline industry has opposed the testing rule, arguing it will block travelers to countries where testing is not readily available and complicate operations due to the responsibility to enforce and explain the policy . Negative tests should allow shorter quarantines, airlines say.

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“Our teams are doing everything they can to help customers and resolve issues at destinations in our network,” said Bell. “Naturally there are questions and confusion, including additional volume to our contact center since its announcement. “

Christophe Hennebelle, spokesperson for the Montreal airline and tour operator Transat, said passengers denied boarding in Cuba did not have the required PCR tests. “We are tackling the issues destination after destination, flight after flight,” he said. “Our teams are doing a great job and I think we will avoid the worst. But there will unfortunately be stranded passengers – a little more caution and cooperation may have helped prevent this.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline had had to change some customers’ reservations and help them pass tests, but did not immediately provide details. “Overall the operation is working well but, as expected, we are having difficulty with clients who have not passed the new government testing requirements,” he said.

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