It can’t come soon enough to Calgary International YYC Airport. It entered the pandemic with a record number of passengers, but in 2020 it became a ghost town.
“It was really surreal,” Chris Miles, vice president of operations and infrastructure for the airport authority, told Global News.
“In fact, it was strangely quiet in the terminals. At one point our troughs were 200-300 departing passengers, whereas on a normal day we would have 50,000 (or) 55,000 people here.
The airport authority was forced to cut jobs and shut down entire sections of the airport.
Calgary-based WestJet airline also went from flying high to almost no one.
“System wide, we were doing about 40 flights a day,” the airline said.
Antonio Faiola, senior director of guest experiences at WestJet, added that before the pandemic, the airline averaged 700 flights a day.
The airline also cut staffs and destinations, prompting a backlash from angry customers who fought for refunds instead of travel vouchers. He eventually offered refunds to some travelers.
“One thing that is important is that we are financially viable throughout this pandemic and that we can come out of it stronger,” said Faiola.
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Coming out stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic was key for the entire airline industry, but it quickly realized that it would not be an easy or quick task.
“We’ve been through 9/11, we’ve been through financial crises, we’ve been through SARS – but again, these are relatively short periods,” Miles said.
“With COVID (-19) there was a lot of apprehension (and) a lot of nerves because there wasn’t a lot of information.”
New travel rules: masks and compulsory vaccination
The lack of information kept many people on the ground, but travel has since resumed. New figures released earlier this month by Statistics Canada recorded 263,400 non-resident arrivals at Canadian airports in October, an increase of more than 14 times over the same period last year.
However, some travelers remain intimidated by all the travel rules and restrictions.
Not only do travelers have to pack their bags (and their passports if traveling outside the country), they now also have to put on their masks.
“It is mandatory to wear a mask when traveling,” said Faiola.
“It is also mandatory to wear a mask when you are on board an aircraft. The only time you don’t have to wear a mask is when you’re eating. “
It is also a requirement to be fully vaccinated when traveling to or through Canada. Unvaccinated travelers can undergo a molecular test such as a PCR test, but starting November 30, anyone over the age of 12 must be fully vaccinated. Anyone traveling outside the country also needs a molecular test to return – regardless of their vaccination status – unless the trip is 72 hours or less.
The United States also allows fully vaccinated non-residents to, but viral or rapid antigen testing is mandatory for all travelers.
International travelers are advised to check in advance as there are different rules for different countries.
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Increased safety in flight
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) also made several changes to the security check. Acrylic barriers and full body scanners have been put in place and screening officers are required to wear masks, face shields and disposable gloves.
“These are really the same procedures we’ve always had with a few extra layers of security for our controllers and passengers,” CATSA’s Pierre Simard told Global News.
“We won’t compromise on either.”
Anyone arriving in Canada will also see changes in the treatment of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“Travelers must present a ArrivalCAN statement, ”said Lisa White of the CBSA.
“ArriveCAN can be an app that you download to your smartphone or you can also download it on your computer. ArriveCAN is where you submit your quarantine plan, where you submit your PCR tests (and) your vaccination records.
White said infection prevention is essential and some passengers may be asked to take a COVID-19 test at random.
White doesn’t expect many delays as travel accelerates, but warns there could be.
“Our message to people is that we are all in the same boat and be patient,” she said. “There are a lot of steps to go through. “
Prepare for a rebound
Now that air travel is picking up, airports and airlines are returning to rotation, and that can be a challenge.
“Growing back is a lot more difficult than reducing it,” Miles said.
YYC Calgary International has been busy reconnecting people and services to meet the new demand.
“We’re actually re-connected to all of the destinations in Canada that we did before 2019,” Miles said.
And while the number of cross-border and international passengers is still on the decline, these have also increased from the lows of the pandemic.
“We do once a day (flights) to some destinations, whereas before COVID we were probably doing three or four (per day). But people are coming back and we are delighted to find them.
WestJet is also excited, as flights have grown to just over 400 a day. He has also been on a hiring wave.
“Right before the pandemic, we were at 14,000 employees,” Faiola said. “And we are approaching the return to almost 9,000.”
The challenge for the airport and its partners is now to put in place several services closed by the closure, a task that officials say they are more than willing to take on.
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