January 27, 2021 By Jon Victor, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — In a move it blames on tighter restrictions imposed by Ottawa, Transat A.T. Inc. is halting all flights out of Toronto and some from Montreal for the remainder of the winter travel season.
The route cuts will begin Thursday and last until April 30, Transat spokeswoman Debbie Cabana said.
“Continued travel restrictions and the numerous measures imposed by the federal government, including the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test and to quarantine upon return to Canada, have had a significant impact on our bookings,” she said.
The cancelled routes in Toronto include flights to Cancun, Mexico, Holguin, Cuba, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Varadero, Cuba, Porto, Portugal and Lisbon, Portugal, Cabana said.
In addition to those flights, Cabana added that Transat is cancelling its flights from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Varadero.
The airline notified travel agents of the cancellations in a memo Wednesday, which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
Passengers who paid for their flight or vacation package with cash or credit card will receive a full refund. Passengers currently at their destinations will be rebooked on flights returning to Canada, the memo says.
Transat’s cancellations come just two weeks after Air Canada announced it would lay off 1,700 workers and cut more routes amid a challenging business environment for the aviation industry.
The extent of the cuts are an indication that the expected recovery in demand for air travel in 2021 may take hold later in the year than many airlines had hoped, even as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out nationwide.
The federal government has cracked down on international travel in recent weeks, implementing a new requirement in January that all travellers seeking to enter Canada provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government is contemplating further restrictions, prompted by the arrival of more contagious strains of COVID-19 in Canada from abroad.
Trudeau this past weekend repeated his call for Canadians to cancel any vacations they may have booked, warning that people who travel abroad could face difficulties returning home.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has called on Ottawa to go further by banning non-essential travel completely or requiring that new entrants to Canada quarantine in a hotel at their own expense. Similarly, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called for a temporary ban on flights to Canada from destinations where new variants of COVID-19 have been discovered.
Canada’s airlines have criticized the government’s travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic, arguing that the mandatory 14-day quarantine is overly strict and should be replaced with a testing program at airports.
The airlines have also said the restrictions were rolled out without co-ordination with the industry, leading to confusion and difficulties for passengers. Since the COVID-19 testing mandate went into effect on Jan. 7, airlines have prevented hundreds of Canadians from boarding flights abroad because they did not produce an acceptable test result.
Allison St-Jean, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, reiterated that Ottawa is committed to assisting airlines and noted that the government is still in negotiations with airlines to develop a financial aid package.
“We are closely following the difficult and unprecedented situation that has unfolded from the heath crisis we are all living through, and that is having a particular impact on this critical sector of the Canadian economy,” St-Jean said.