‘Frustrating and difficult’: Canadians abroad struggle to find return flight

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On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a straightforward but straightforward message to Canadians traveling abroad: If you’re abroad, it’s time to go home.

But as the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in border restrictions and flight cancellations around the world, many travelers are struggling to return home earlier than expected.

“You can’t reach anyone, you can’t fly home,” Saralyn Hodgkin, an Ottawa resident, who is with her husband and two boys in Costa Rica, told CBC News Network.

“I’m stressed. I’m fine and I’m healthy and I’m stressed.”

WATCH | Ottawa, Costa Rica resident talks about being ‘stressed’ by travel arrangements:

Despite concerns about the coronavirus, a family from Ottawa to Costa Rica is trying to make the most of their vacation. 6:25

Hodgkin said her family booked a return flight for Thursday, but wanted to get home earlier and tried to contact Air Canada.

“It just hasn’t worked. People aren’t available, phone lines aren’t available,” she said. “It’s frustrating and stimulating.”

Anthony Eric Williams-Jones, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University, with five students, had traveled to Morocco for an annual two-week geological visit. However, they are now stranded in Casablanca, having discovered Sunday morning that their return flights to Canada had been canceled.

WATCH | Justin Trudeau urges Canadians abroad to return home:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday that Canada would ban entry to most non-residents, except US citizens. He urges Canadians abroad to return to Canada as quickly as possible. 24:51

“We try to do things very methodically, so literally we’ve spent all of our time contacting – online – airlines, travel agencies … to try to get us out of this country to anywhere. which could then allow us to surrender. back to Montreal, ”he said.

They spent “hours and hours” looking for other options and were able to secure a flight to Qatar which departs on Wednesday, then a flight from Qatar to Montreal on March 22.

“It’s the best we can find. As you can imagine, it’s chaos,” he said. “I was in the Royal Air Maroc service center yesterday and it was free-for-all. People were literally fighting with each other, everyone was scrambling to get out of this country.”

Anthony Eric Williams, second from left, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University, traveled with five students to Morocco for an annual two-week geological visit. (Submitted by Anthony Eric Williams)

He said that because of these fights he was unable to book a flight leaving on Sunday,

“We literally couldn’t get in touch with a duty officer because of the fighting that was erupting in the room around me.”

Abhishek Sharma, 34, residing in Kingston, Ont., Left for India on February 11 with his wife and two daughters. At the time, he had no real concerns about the coronavirus and was more focused on introducing his new 10-month-old daughter to family in Kapurthaia, Punjab.

“Last Wednesday I started to panic because there were so many cases in different parts of the world,” said Sharma, project manager at Queen’s University.

Return flight too expensive

He decided he wanted to return to Canada as soon as possible and not wait for his scheduled flight on April 1. He tried to contact Air Canada, spending hours calling repeatedly, but was unsuccessful, he said. Then someone on Twitter gave him another Air Canada number, he said, and after a two-and-a-half-hour wait, he spoke with an airline representative.

He was told that the only flight available from New Delhi to Toronto was March 23, but that it would cost $ 9,000 for his entire family. This would have been on top of the $ 7,200 he said he had already paid for the return tickets.

He said he couldn’t afford it, so he will have to wait until April 1.

“I hope the flights will not be canceled at that time,” he said. “All I care about is the safety of my family. I just want to come back ASAP to be home.”

WATCH | An Ontario family in the Dominican Republic describes the challenges of finding a flight back to Canada:

Kathryn and Clair Doan, along with their four children, have been trying to return to Canada from the Dominican Republic almost since arriving there last week. 6:44

On Twitter, Air Canada said that given the high volume of calls related to COVID-19, it was asking customers to contact their original booking source for information or, if they had booked with the airline, that they were eager to serve them. as soon as we can. “

Additionally, for those considering making changes or canceling travel plans, the airline said it had “improved [its] flexibility to help ”and that passengers should visit their website.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Trudeau announced that the federal government would put in place a support program for Canadians who need to fly. The program will provide an emergency loan to Canadians “who need immediate financial assistance to help them return home or to temporarily cover their basic needs while they work on their return,” the government said in a statement. communicated.

The repayable loan program, which offers up to $ 5,000 per traveler, builds on the one already in place for struggling Canadians abroad. It aims to “bridge the gap” for Canadians who may have unexpected longer stays or see ticket prices soar.

WATCH | A Quebecer in Spain expresses her concerns about the border closures:

With Spain now stranded, a Canadian couple without housing after March 29 is trying to get out. 4:25

Kim Sheehan, from Rawdon, Que., Who is vacationing with her husband on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, said she changed flights and airlines three times while trying to get home too as fast as possible.

But she said flights were mostly booked or canceled, and for what is available, prices are over $ 2,000 per person one way,

However, they have a flight booked with British Airways to London, England on Friday, and a WestJet flight back to Canada in the middle of next week.

After March 29, she will no longer have a place to stay in Spain and she worries about border closures and the potential cancellation of flights to Spain and London.

“We want to get out before the borders are closed,” she said. “So we just hope we can fly.”

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