Canada Brings Back Testing Rules as Its Airlines Crumble

Government Regulation

If you were hoping to go visit Canada this summer — as I am — you may be getting nervous about those plans. Thanks to an impressively terrible operation at Air Canada and a moderately terrible one at WestJet along with the return of arrival testing rules, Canada is uncharacteristically proving to be exceedingly unfriendly.

Let’s start with Air Canada. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sustained meltdown to the extent that Air Canada has pulled off this summer. And I’m not using the “meltdown” word lightly. According to Anuvu data, from June 1 – July 14, Air Canada has been canceling nearly 10 percent of its scheduled flights (actually 9.18 percent) while getting a mere 36.1 percent of flights to their destination within 14 minutes of schedule. It seems unnecessary to say this, but… that is really, really bad.

2022 Air Canada Operational Performance By Day

Data via Anuvu

As you can see, I’m being generous just stopping at June 1. This has been an ongoing slide in performance since April, and it is not getting better.

The cancellation problem lies primarily with the regional flights — all of which are now operated by Jazz — which have been canceling at about a 15 percent clip regularly. But mainline operations are still canceling more than 3 percent and Rouge is just barely better than that. For those flights that do operate, mainline is just shy of 35 percent on time while regional flying is up at 36.4 percent and Rouge sits on its lofty perch at 41.1 percent. This is horrendous all around.

The numbers are so bad that it makes WestJet look good. And WestJet does not actually look good. Since June 1, it has canceled over 3 percent of its flights with an on-time arrival rate of 54.01 percent.

2022 WestJet Operational Performance By Day

Data via Anuvu

This is downright embarrassing and an alarming look at the state of travel to/from/within Canada. Now, some of this could have been attributed to the ill-thought-through testing on arrival program which was in place until early June. That program had the government randomly testing even vaccinated travelers upon landing, creating a massive backup at the airports. That program ended for all but unvaccinated travelers on June 11 when the government buckled under pressure to get things moving again. But as you can see, things did not improve after June 11, so this can’t be the only reason.

I’ve reached out to Air Canada to get a sense of what’s going on, and I was told that it was everyone else’s fault.

As has been well reported in the media, the global air transport industry is currently challenged due to issues with airport capacity issues, airport-managed baggage systems and third-party providers of such services as passenger screening, customs, and air navigation. We are working hard with these partners and governments to resolve these issues as they are affecting the performance of airlines.

So, what can be done? Well, unlike European countries which are imposing caps on travel, Canada seems to be content with just making people not want to visit by imposing bad policies.

That stubborn testing program returns today for even vaccinated travelers. The good news is that the arrival testing is no longer done in airports. Travelers have to provide an email address upon entry during customs and immigration formalities, and an email will be sent within 15 minutes saying whether or not a test is required. If so, travelers will be able to do a proctored test at home or, I think, be given a lab to visit. If the test is positive, that means there’s a required 10-day isolation with almost no exceptions. (If you have a private vehicle, you can apparently get permission to leave the country.)

But guess what? The at-home tests say you’ll get results within 4-7 days of testing. So… what is the point of this stupidity? The government has been quoted as saying that this is being done to detect new variants when they enter the country. Ok, that’s fine. But if it’s about detection alone, then why do positive tests then force a 10-day isolation?

As I mentioned at the top, I have a big family trip to Canada coming up next month. There are ten of us going, so chances of someone being randomly selected seem pretty decent. Let’s say one person is, and the test is taken. Then the result comes back positive in 4 days. Now, isolation will be required for, presumably, another 6 days?

At that point, I will have infected my entire family, let alone anyone else I come into close contact with during my travels. The isolation rules will do nothing but deter visitors.

To summarize, if you’re going to Canada, get ready to get anxious. Your flight will more likely than not be delayed and a cancellation is a distinct possibility as well. Meanwhile, if you get selected for random testing and show up positive — as will increasingly be the case as BA.5 rages through the population — get ready to enjoy some quality time alone in a room.

Let’s hope no other country is taking Canada’s lead on setting COVID policies.

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35 comments on “Canada Brings Back Testing Rules as Its Airlines Crumble

  1. Heading to the US next week and had to change flights out of Sydney short notice due to flight cancellations. One option was Air Canada via Vancouver. Awfully glad I gave that a miss.

  2. Flew SFO-YYZ on AC last week. About 2 hours late on both ends; no apology or explanation. The crew couldn’t have been more pleasant, however. If there was an upside, it was that we hit Custom and Immigration at around 0130, so we had no lines.

  3. I went to Prince Edward Island over the July 4th weekend and it was delightful. What was NOT delightful was Air Canada. I flew from Washington (my home) to PEI and about a week before I started noticing that the flight I was supposed to take from DCA to Montreal (where I had to connect) was so late every day that there was no way I could make my connection. I then noticed that all of Air Canada’s schedule at DCA seemed to melt down every single day (thanks flightaware! and the Air Canada app). I scrambled and changed my outbound to leave from Dulles on United and made my connection to air Canada just fine. That said, in Montreal, when I went through Canadian customs/ immigration, i DID notice the mountains of luggage everywhere in the baggage hall. no fun. but I carrierd on. On my return my Charlottetown to Toronto flight was fine and we were on-timish, and then I entered the misery of the U.S. departures wing. Scores of flights to the U.S. on Air Canada were canceled, long lines of angry customers at every customer service desk. My flight to DCA was “only” delayed 2.5 hours and not canceled. It was infuriating to watch – the inbound plane landed about 30 minutes late but they had to hold it across the airport for nearly 1.5 hours because a plane was at our gate that needed to be towed, but there was no crew to tow it. Finally they found one and our plane came in, but I feel bad for the poor people on that flight who were made to sit on the ground for 1.5 hours before being allowed off. No good. We made it and as others have mentioned the crews were perfectly fine onboard, but wow. Terrible experience. Prince Edward Island, though, is fabulous and worth a visit.

    1. Thanks for the review.

      I live in the Northeast US, and PEI, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland are on my list of places to visit during the summer (probably on separate trips), but definitely not this year.

      As an aside, the few times I’ve checked fares for those destinations, I have been amazed at how expensive flights are, especially considering how close those destinations are [YYG (Charlottetown) is < 500 miles from BOS]. I presume that's because of the relative lack of nonstop flights direct from the US to those destinations (and thus the need to backtrack from the Northeast and connect in YUL or YYZ), but oh well. Definitely some destinations I'll have to keep an eye on.

  4. I live in Canada, and I’ve attempted two trips recently (one to the US, one to Europe). The first one (Air Canada) was a trip in vain due to a cancellation with no decent alternative. Second one (WestJet) had a two hour delay causing us to miss our connection to Europe (even though we sprinted across the Calgary airport and made it to the gate before the plane left, but they had closed it and wouldn’t let us board. Insult to injury: we passed the first officer who was walking to the plane; he said we didn’t need to rush because the plane wasn’t leaving without him. No dice). Wound up being a 24 hour delay in our trip, but it took an additional five hours at the Calgary airport before we could get rebooked, either by calling WestJet or getting to an agent who could rebook us (it was the call centre that came through first).

    Worth noting: a 9+ hour delay or a cancellation of your trip entitles you to CAD$1000 cash in addition to being reaccommodated. This isn’t cheap for the airlines! I’m also perplexed that WestJet didn’t hold our Calgary-London flight for the 30 minutes it would have taken to get everyone from my inbound flight; there were a bunch of us, so that is many thousand dollars in cash they have to pay out.

    But we were very thankful that Canada retains an in-flight mask mandate, as the passenger next to us was symptomatic with something (don’t know if it was COVID), and the crew had to repeatedly demand that she follow the rules and wear her mask. If there wasn’t a mask mandate, we would have had no leg to stand on in insisting that a sick seatmate wear a mask; with BA.5, we need every feasible layer of protection. No way I’ll travel these days on a flight or to a country without a mask mandate, since I have the ability to maintain safe distancing or have masks required pretty much everywhere else.

  5. Been to Canada many times and it’s a beautiful country. that said, the idea that Canada is “characteristically” friendly is a stereotype. Yes, the average people are nice enough but the government/immigration/customs/etc people that you’ll interact with are some of the nastiest and most obnoxious on Earth. Honestly, I’ve had more hassles with getting into Canada than I ever did in 40+ visits to Chavez’ Venezuela. As an American.

    So, there’s nothing uncharacteristic about the Canadian government being total a**oles at the airport. The fact that they decided to throw a monkey wrench into an already brutal situation doesn’t surprise me in the least. They really don’t care about the lines; political expediency is more important. And, as ugly as Pearson is, Montreal may well be home to the unfriendliest airport staff in the Western Hemisphere. Makes LGA look like Sweet Home Alabama. Seriously.

    1. It’s certainly a stereotype that is not generally true – Canada has more than its share of assholes just like the US — but our experience with border agents (95% at one rural land border post in BC/WA) is that the Americans are universally less friendly than the Canadians. (We’re all dual right-of-entry now, but this was true when the Canadians gave us first work permits and later permanent residency at this border post.)

      1. I’ll definitely agree with your first sentence, both countries have more than their fair share of a-holes. In the US, ours are more apt to be open about it, Canadians are more prone to sneak the a-holishness out on you unexpectedly. As for immigration, this may (or may not) be a function of which nation you’re from. I almost never have issues with US ICE; but I’ve had a lot of issues with the Canadians. Some of them are more “polite” than others when hassling me but they still give me more crap than any other nation on Earth, ever.

        Usually, it’s about whether I need a work permit (whether I’m there for work or not) because they love to get that $150 or whatever it now is. But there’s also questioning about whether I own a firearm which is none of their fecking business as long as it’s not with me (which it wouldn’t be). Other Americans I know get quizzed about drug use, I get a firearm interrogation. So, I guess I must have that look! ;)

  6. The Canadian random arrival testing never technically went away; it was paused for air travel only while they sorted out improved logistics. It remained in place all along at the land border. My family and I have probably crossed the land border a combined 20+ times in the last few months, and we’ve never been selected for testing. We’ve also travelled with people entering Canada on US and German passports, none of whom have been selected. In fact, I didn’t even know it was in place until I looked now. I don’t know if the odds are different at airports, but I think your chances of (a) being selected and (b) testing positive are pretty low, even with several people in your party.

    Getting PCR tests before flying isn’t a bad idea to make your chances even lower, if you want to spend the money for that peace of mind.

    I have colleagues going to a meeting in Korea soon. Truly a different story there: PCR tests for everyone, and if positive you must quarantine not just for 10 days but until you’re negative on a PCR test. That could be months!

    1. Stevo – They shouldn’t be. They didn’t have the same dramatic change in rules a few years ago the way the US did. But I don’t know for sure if that’s one of the contributing factors.

      1. I get the impression that both Air Canada and WestJet were pretty aggressive in cutting staff due to COVID and haven’t been able to rehire and retrain anywhere close to quickly enough. But I don’t know.

  7. Is this a new format for your graphs, with the dark solid color and lighter line in the front, or did I miss it before? Either way, it looks great and is much easier to read than just multiple lines or bars.

    As for Canada, what I would find the most frustrating is that there doesn’t seem to be any plan on improving the situation by anyone, whether by the airlines, airports, border control, or other factors.

    1. Jason – Not a new format. That’s just a line graph on top of an area graph. If I can make it more readable, I will.

  8. I usually don’t comment… but this time I thought to give my two cents worth of experience. I do live in Canada. New Brunswick is a picturesque province with rugged beauty along the Bay of Fundy. Definetly worth a visit. We are “blessed” to be served by 4 airports. One in the north and the other 3 with the bigger cities. My city used to have 3 flights a day to Toronto as well as three to Montreal earlier this year. All on Jazz/ Air Canada. Now we are reduced to one a day to YYZ and YUL. Besides that we do have a handful of flights per week by ULCC. I went to Toronto in June for a visit and had monitored flights the week before I left. Odds were not good as every second flight was cancelled due to “unforseen” reasons. But I made it on the day of departure and arrived pretty much on time with a connection in YUL. There were “offers” to check your carry on for free due to full flights. I did refuse the offer, as I wanted to have my bag and not wait hours or days before being reunited with my belongings. On the way home, my flight was supposed to depart around 9pm. Flightaware showed that the aircraft supposed to fly us was not going to be available. It was about 8:45pm by that time. Magically at about 9pm a substitute appeared. After cleaning they did the pre boarding announcements and people boarded. Then all of a sudden they stopped calling for people. And soon enough those already boarded came back to the holding area (“the pit” as we like to call it, where the regional flights depart from at YYZ). Aparently the aircraft needed to ha e a tire changed and we had to wait for CAA to come. Anyways, tire got changed. And we waited some more. And some more. We were told that the geound crew was not available to load the aircraft at the moment. Finally by about midnight, we left Toronto and arrived at my home airport at 3am. Scheduled arrival was 11:45pm. I was not happy as I had to be at work for 8am. The reasons that AC provided on the app changed several times. Thw flight crew was great amd they must feel horrible with having to excuse all the issues every day. – So when my daughter who lives in Ontario said she wanted to visit us this month, I told her to not fly with Air Canada, as she might not be able to keep the times she booked. We got her onto Porter out of YTZ into an airport in a city an hours drive from us. It appears that Porter is not affected as much by the chaos that is YYZ and AC and Porters flights seldom seem cancelled. Please come and visit us in Canada… we are nice people… and we have pretty sceneries… just don’t fly here at this time… you might be stuck for a while ;-)

  9. The operational disruptions in Canadian aviation are taking a toll on Air Canada’s attractiveness in connecting the U.S. to Europe which is a key part of their network strategy. I had friends that missed their connection in Toronto and ended up having a very nice day touring at Air Canada’s expense and they met other people in the same situation.
    As for the whole covid strategy, the real issue is not cause numbers but serious illness and death – and that is just not happening and very likely will not because covid has weakened as viruses do even though it is very contagious. Testing for cold-like symptoms at best only will delay economic recovery which is fine if someone is willing to pay the bill for unemployed or underemployed people in tourism and travel related industries.

    1. Tim, where do you get your informed medical information from about COVID? It is a fallacy that these later variants are any less serious; the healthcare systems in multiple countries (here, and the UK, and other parts of Europe) are at breaking point, not exclusively because of COVID cases, but partly because of the damage that COVID has put on them. Younger people and kids are suffering serious COVID symptoms, and more young adults are suffering cerebrovascular events due to COVID. The travel testing policies have largely been minimally effective, and certainly have seen some serious profiteering going on; but if countries adopted a much better test and trace, provide proper financial support whilst isolating, then the waves of increasingly virulent variants would not be coming as frequently.

      I don’t expect an aviation site to be anything other than gung ho for travel – I fly far more than I should, my family remain in the UK whilst I live and work in the US now – but dismissing the severity of a pandemic that is still very much active is part of the reason we’re in this shitty mess still.

      1. Staffing problems have happened in many industries but those are not a direct result of covid but because of many other factors.

        Covid-19 is simply not as severe both in terms of the number of hospitalizations and deaths now as it was early in the pandemic. There are vaccines and effective treatments now; there are ample statistics to show that to be the case and it is true in Europe and elsewhere as it is in the US.

        Of course, there are people that get sick and die from any disease but covid is simply not the global health threat that it was.

        The world largely is reopening to travel and even Canada is not proposing virtually shutting their borders as they essentially did before.

      2. It is NOT a fallacy that latter variants such as Omicron are less serious. This seem to be the case and if you don’t agree just do you research in PubMed. The Omicron tend to affect the lungs less than earlier variants such as the wildtype and Delta. Surely that are some who will be hospitalized due to comorbidities and other factors but in general, Omicron as much as it is highly contagious is less potent in terms of its ability to affect the lungs and other organs. Btw, I am a pharmacist.

        1. You’re a pharmacist and you don’t think Omicron is less severe than Delta et al? Come on.

          I speak from multiple experiences. My wife does CAT scans at a hospital, from Day 1 of this. We’ve seen ebbs and flows at the hospital, and what is going since Omicron is not remotely to the same level as Delta.

          I also speak as one who had Omicron, and I am 58 years old. It was a sinus infection, nothing more. I have had more unpleasant colds.

          We have to move on from OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO HIDE FROM THIS UNTIL IT IS GONE to dealing with it as we do the flu, strep, etc…an endemic illness that is very contagious and one that vulnerable people need to protect themselves from.

          1. Nope, I absolutely stand my ground and Omicron is definitely less severe than Delta. Prior to Omicron, the etiology of the virus was such that it had more pneumo involvement along with much more widespread organ damage. This is NOT the case with Omicron. Omicron definitely is much more contagious, no doubt about it. But it’s effect on the average person is less severe. But I am not saying that some people won’t get pneumonia or more severe disease, it depends on their co-morbidities and other factors. The hospitalization rates with Omicron is simply not the same as it was with Delta.

    2. You will appreciate this. When Hollis (Harris) went up to Toronto to run Air Canada, he ensconced himself in a very swanky hotel there. He had a couple of “assistants” who vetted his visitors and drove him around. He absolutely held Court in that hotel. And the dinner and drink tab he ran was staggering. Some REALLY good times up there, listening to his Delta stories. A BIG part of Delta Culture died when he left.

  10. So what happens if the email ends up in the spam folder and you don’t find it until, say, the day after you leave the country?

    Also, what if you don’t have internet access? (camping trip, no smart phone)

    1. Oliver – I’m sure they have some rules around all that stuff, but you’d have to probably page through the regulation.

  11. CATSA (Security) lack of staff has been one of the big pressures, plus the airlines laid a lot of staff off at the beginning of the pandemic; and with a quickly recovering economy, they’ve been hard pressed to replace staff.

    However, criticizing Canada’s COVID-19 response and health measures is pretty rich when the death rate from Covid in Canada is 1100/million, vs the United States at over 3000/million.

  12. Wait — reading through the line you were planning on traveling without doing any testing, and if positive to continue mixing with other people?

    Sheesh, no wonder we’re never getting out of this pandemic, more and more people are suffering long COVID, and variants are rampant.

    And no wonder mandates are required, given that people like you are not taking any self-responsibility in keeping the community safe.

    Yeah, Canada has a far lower incidence of COVID deaths and long-COVID than the USA, up to 5 times less. Lucky Canadians that have a government that keeps them safe.

    1. excuse me but the testing process has proven to be very erratic and many false positives.
      in addition so many peope have the virus and oters so selective quarantine is uselss.

      anyone who does need to go to canada should not go.if they do then they have decided ot rsk 10+ day quarasntine even though
      they many not be at risk.

  13. I arrived by plane in Vancouver at noon on Wednesday. About 15 minutes later I received an email letting me know that I had been randomly selected to complete a mandatory molecular Covid test by end of day on Thursday. I was instructed to do so by clicking on a link to the approved provider, which I did.

    I could see the wait times online for a walk-in appointment – anywhere from 82 to 3 minutes,
    depending on the lab location. After getting to the lab with the shortest wait time, I was told that the lab had no one qualified to administer the test. They gave me a kit for a virtual test and told me to register and to make an appointment for the virtual test, which involved downloading yet another phone app (Microsoft Team).

    After the virtual test, I asked the provider how long it would be before I got my results, to why she replied four days. I told her we were leaving Canada in three days and she told me not to worry about it because it didn’t matter.

    Seriously? It took five hours out of what I hoped would be an afternoon of sightseeing in Canada and it didn’t matter?? My vacation gets cut short so Canada can collect information about Covid??

    The staff at the hotel told us I should have ignored the request, as they said many people do. That’s not in my nature, but I now fully understand and appreciate that choice of action.

    O Canada.

    1. Sorry to hear that Canada’s attempt to maintain 1/3rd the number of Covid-19 deaths per capita compared to its neighbour to the south, interfered with your vacation.

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