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Three good reasons not to fly south this winter

Image Credit: FLICKR / BriYYZ
February 04, 2021 - 8:00 AM

With the federal government imposing travel restrictions to sun belt destinations last week, that’s one very good reason not to try to find ways around them.

Canadian airlines have cancelled flights to Caribbean and Mexican destinations but not to the United States.

So, in theory, a person could fly from Kamloops, Kelowna or Penticton to Vancouver, catch an international flight to Seattle then another jet to Mexico.

Except the rules are unclear and constantly changing on whether that traveller will have to quarantine in Seattle before grabbing that second flight.

“I’ve been itching to hop on plane and go lay on a beach,” Gail Fritsen, manager of Marlin Travel in Kelowna told “But, I’m not ready to quarantine every which way.”

The quarantine rules vary by country and are not always clear.

“Everything changes daily and it’s very fluid right now on rules and regulations,” said an agent at another agency, who did not want her name used because she was unclear about what the rules might be at any given time. “Sometimes you can connect through and avoid a country’s quarantine – it’s not recommended – and sometimes they clamp down and say no you can’t.”

As far as she knew at the time, a stopover in Seattle would require a two-week quarantine.

Fritsen, along with being the manager at Marlin Travel, is also its only agent. The others were laid off last April. Despite the fact that she’s not made money for the last 10 months, she’s still discouraging customers from travelling.

“My advice to people is that it’s not worth the headaches to try to get out now,” she said. “They’re just going to be booking and cancelling. It’s just going to be a nightmare.”

She had an elderly couple in last week who wanted to travel to the Dominican Republic and stay a couple of months as they did each winter. This was before the travel restrictions were put in place.

That discussion highlighted the third big reason not to travel.

“I literally talked them out of going because I didn’t want them to have any problems,” Fritsen said. “If the government puts on a rule that there is no travel, period, no insurance will cover you when you’re away.”

Those who travelled before the restrictions would be OK, she said, but the couple wasn’t planning to travel for a while.

Airlines started offering free COVID-19 insurance on Dec. 1 but Fritsen described it as “a bit of a ploy,” since it had a $200,000 spending limit.

“$200,000 is not a lot of money if you’re on a ventilator for two weeks in some country and then you’re trying to get home,” Fritsen said.

She’s advising travellers to hold off, at least until next fall but, to be safe, to look at the winter of 2022.

And, as if another reason is needed not to travel, many countries are locking down because of COVID-19.

“Mexico is shutting everything down again,” Fritsen said. “Bars are shutting down. Stores are being limited to the number of people. Hours are shortened for when you’re allowed on the beach.”

This turning down business runs counter to what she’s been doing for more than 20 years and, since she’s paid by commission, she’s cutting her own income every time she turns a customer away.

To “pour salt in the wound,” the government is insisting the airlines give full refunds to travellers whose trips have been cancelled because of the new restrictions.

While that’s good for customers, the catch for agents like Fritsen is that the airlines are insisting the commissions be repaid before the refunds are given. That means, in some cases, commissions earned, and spent, a year ago are now being clawed back.

“We’re getting hammered, hammered, hammered,” she said.

Laid off travel agents, many of whom are women and, often, single mothers supporting families, will have their government support programs run out at the end of April, so they’re afraid they will lose their homes. Even if restrictions are lifted by then, the peak travel season will be over.

Booking alternative vacations in Canada is not an option at this time since people want warm vacations and travel is being discouraged even within Canada.

“To try to sell an airline ticket – I just don’t want to touch them at this point,” Fritsen said. “It’s a big risk. It’s a risk for me. It’s a risk for my clients. I would suggest, unless there’s a major emergency, just sit tight."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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