Hours-long waits on the phone.
Confusion about exemptions.
Uncertainty what happens to arrivals without hotel reservations.
Contradictions about cost.
Canada’s new hotel quarantine regulations for arriving air passengers came into effect Monday, and it’s just like Open Jaw, some of our readers, and other observers predicted and experienced.
“I tried the sole option to reserve hotels this morning for a client,” one Open Jaw reader posted Friday, “The option is a 1-800 option and there is no other way to reserve a hotel. The first time I tried, the line rang and rang and rang and then a recorded message came on saying there was no one to take the call. The call then disconnected.”
At a news conference Friday, the government said it was addressing the problem of an 800-number inaccessible outside Canada, long waits and disconnected calls. However, CBC News heard from several travellers over the weekend who said they still couldn’t get through and are frustrated that there is no option to book a room online.
Some travellers told CTV News that their calls to the reservation line were automatically disconnected after three hours, forcing them to call back and wait in the queue all over again, a problem also reported by agents who left comments on Open Jaw.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada is aware that the hotel booking phone line is receiving a high volume of calls at the moment. We thank everyone for their patience,” Tammy Jarbeau, senior spokesperson for the agency, said in an email to CTV.
The hotel reservation process also has some Open Jaw readers steaming for another reason.
“Please be fair to the whole travel industry,” one reader wrote, “I wonder why the government only gave this business to American Express Travel. On top of hotel commission, American Express has to charge handling fees from the clients. I believe most travel agents know how to reserve a hotel. Wonder why they don’t open up to all IATA agencies and make it more fair to our industry.”
“Once again, the government does not give credibility to the travel agency community!” another wrote in a post, “We are getting calls (for help) from our clients abroad and instead of assisting, we are to refer them to American Express on an 800 number. At the rate being charged, I am assuming Amex will be paying its agents commission.
We are the ones who have to deal with the reissues, etc.”
Early reports also say that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s original estimate of a cost of $2,000 per person, including meals and transportation, actually varies widely from hotel to hotel and often doesn’t add up to nearly that much. CTV cited one hotel quote in Calgary at $611 and another in Vancouver at $1827. Health Minister Hajdu confirmed that the final price is up to the individual hotel.
When asked if travellers would be turned away from entering the country without a hotel booking, PHAC’s Jarbeau said the agency would answer that question by Monday, but as of Open Jaw press time, there is still no word.
The CBC also asked PHAC which travellers would be exempt from the hotel quarantine requirement and was provided a link to a government website that lists people already exempt from the existing mandatory 14-day quarantine. The list includes essential workers, cross-border workers and people receiving medical treatment. Unaccompanied minors are also exempt, as are some compassionate cases, such as those attending a funeral, if they obtain government pre-approval.
The federal government has not indicated how long the hotel quarantine requirement may be in place, which has some critics questioning Ottawa’s logic for the program.
“What data was used to determine that hotel quarantines are a better option for stopping the spread of variants than the Calgary border pilot program, which employs rapid, on-arrival testing,” asked Conservative health critic MP Michelle Rempel Garner at a committee meeting Friday then received a ‘we’ll get back to you’ reply from PHAC.
Meanwhile, many travellers arrived home early over the weekend, many citing their timing was to avoid the quarantine requirement. The Montreal Gazette spoke to a handful of travellers returning to YUL from abroad on Sunday who cited the new travel restrictions as the main factor behind their decision to alter their flight plans.