‘Wrong on so many fronts’: Airlines continue to incentivise holiday travel despite COVID-19 pandemic

TORONTO — Popular Canadian airlines are continuing to push incentives and vacation packages despite public health officials calling for people to not travel for non-essential purposes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline industry has been hit hard financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the latest blow has yet to hit. Starting on Thursday, people taking non-essential trips will be required to show a negative test for the disease before being able to return to Canada.

In an effort to keep afloat, some airlines are now frantically offering heavily discounted vacations and flights, as well as free COVID-19 coverage for quarantine costs in case someone tests positive on their trip.

Air Canada and WestJet now offer free travel insurance with a $100,000 coverage limit on flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and, in WestJet’s case, Europe. Air Canada has also collaborated with Manulife to provide “aeroplan members” COVID-19 insurance of up to $200,000.

Experts are warning that those who do decide to vacation and take advantage of the flight and insurance incentives need to think twice before signing on.

Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto, told CTV News Toronto that the incentives are “wrong on so many fronts.”

“$100,000 or $200,000, that is not even close to enough if you ended up in a hospital in the U.S. on a ventilator,” Firestone said Wednesday. “So who would be responsible for the difference? You the consumer.”

“It’s incentivizing travel at a time when our Canadian government has asked for no travel [that is] not essential.”

With increasing restrictions and requirements, Firestone stressed that consumers should ensure they read the fine print of vacation incentives if they decide to travel amid the pandemic.

The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents airlines like Air Canada, Air Transat, and WestJet, has said the testing requirement by the federal government was made without prior coordination with the industry.

“While industry will do all it can to implement the new requirements, and ensure passengers are aware of their obligations, given the lack of detail and prior consultation this is going to be a very challenging exercise,” the organization stated.  

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