Air Transat and Air Canada aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Air Transat and Air Canada aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

International air travel a fraction of pre-pandemic times

International air travel during pandemic less than a 10th of what it was before COVID-19

OTTAWA — Canada’s new testing and quarantine rules for international air travellers appear to have convinced even more Canadians to stay put in recent weeks.

Most Canadians had been heeding the government’s plea not to travel outside the country, with or without the new restrictions.

Weekly statistics provided by the Canada Border Services Agency show international air travel during the pandemic is less than a 10th what it was before COVID-19.

The data show there was a small increase in international air travel after Christmas, with almost 170,000 people arriving in Canada between Dec. 28 and Jan. 10.

That compares with about 128,000 between Dec. 14 and Dec. 27.

In the last two weeks of January international arrivals fell to 106,000 people, and in the first two weeks of February, the figure fell further to 94,000 people.

The drop in international arrivals in early February is about four times the decline seen between early January and early February in 2019 and 2020.

It came after Ottawa started making all international air travellers show proof of negative COVID-19 tests before boarding their planes.

Since Feb. 22, international air travellers also must quarantine in specified hotels for three days after landing, pending the results of second COVID-19 tests.

The government began musing about the quarantines in January but didn’t confirm the details until Feb. 12. CBSA data doesn’t yet reflect what impact that may have had.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and national public health officials began urging Canadians to avoid international travel last March as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading rapidly around the globe.

By the end of March they started barring non-Canadians from travelling here for purposes that aren’t considered essential — such as helping with the pandemic or truck drivers bringing in supplies.

The impact was relatively swift and it was massive, with international arrivals falling from an average of about 780,000 a week in April and May 2019, to fewer than 20,000 a week in 2020.

While air travel did start to tick up in the summer, and rose even further in December, overall it has consistently remained less than 10 per cent of what it was in previous years.

From the last week of March 2019 until mid-February 2020, CBSA counted 35.6 million travellers arriving on international flights, including from the United States.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, that total was 1.9 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

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