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Residents talk travel, COVID concerns

The Edmonton International Airport is seeing an increase in flights through the winter, but some people are just not ready to take flight.
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José and Elena Lardizabal miss travelling, but COVID concerns have kept them taking flight outside of the country, they said Nov. 22, 2021. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

Enveloped by the darkness of late fall, many might be dreaming of the bygone days of chasing the sun or visiting with family located across borders.

“We would like to [travel] because we have two sons with their families in the States … and two grandchildren each. We would love to visit with them. We haven't seen them for two years-and-a-half — except on FaceTime. And that's not good enough,” said Elena Lardizabal.

High vaccination rates, a loosening of travel recommendations by the federal government back in October, and an increase in direct flights out of Edmonton mean many might be hot to get out of Canada for a spell. The local travel temperature, however, is a mixed bag.

Apart from seeing their grandchildren, Elena and her husband José said — as they stood outside of St. Albert Centre on Monday — they miss going on cruises and travelling in Europe with their friends, but COVID has prevented them from booking any flights.

“We’re not safe. We don’t feel safe,” Elena said.

Jose said even with the vaccine they don’t feel safe because there are many who remain unvaccinated due to misinformation and many won’t even wear a mask.

“So, until this COVID is gone … we’re just going to stay around,” said José.

In the meantime, the Lardizabal’s have spent much time travelling locally.

“We love the mountains. And it's safer because it's outdoors,” said Elena.

Teryl Watt, who was also making her way into St. Albert Centre on Monday, said she isn’t planning on travelling, but she did just update her passport.

“My sister's moved to Mexico. My girlfriend's moved to Arizona. They want me to come. So that's why I got the passport,” she said.

Watt is not nervous about COVID. She works in a correction centre and was not impacted when they had outbreaks there.

“I never got it. I guess that kind of thing … that's not my concern. But, yeah, it's just the airports and how they operate,” she said.

Watt wasn’t a fan of airports before COVID and now she is worried they will be more of a hassle in pandemic times.

“Now that there’s COVID, what are you supposed to do? Where are you supposed to stand? Who's gonna yell [at you]? All that kind of stuff,” she said.

Traci Bednard, spokesperson for the Edmonton International Airport, said they are starting to see an uptick in travel at the airport.

“This is the time of year when people either plan or start to travel to some destinations. We're certainly seeing that pick up as well in terms of people traveling, in terms of their bookings, and in terms of airlines adding new non-stop routes from Edmonton,” she said.

“When COVID was most severe for us, we only had 13 non-stop flights. But you know, today we have 38 non-stop flights and those have come online relatively quickly. And like you said, if you look to the end of the year, we'll be up to about 45 non-stop destinations,” she said.

Year-to-date passenger totals are around 2.08 million. In 2020, the airport hosted a total of 2.6 million passengers, compared to the 8.15 million it saw in 2019.

In October, 4,018 international passengers went through the airport, compared to the 1,499 in September, with a year-to-date total of 8,410 passengers.

Bednard said the increase began domestically, with 1.6 million domestic passengers, year-to-date.

“A few months ago, we saw an increase in domestic travel out of the airport. And then the federal government reinstated admissions international status, so that allowed airlines and travelers to once again start their U.S. and international travel, and there's also some natural timing to increases,” she said.

Bednard said they are seeing more families in the airport alongside school holidays.

As for concerns people have about travelling, Bednard said they are doing many things to ensure the health and safety of their clients, but travellers also need to do their part.

“For many people, they haven't traveled for maybe a couple of years. There are some things that have changed and for us, we just really want to ask people to take time to research online,” she said.

Travellers must consider things such as requirements to get into a different country, but also the requirements to get back into Canada. They need to know where to get a COVID test and what kind of COVID test might be required, and also what kind of vaccinations are accepted — information that can be found on the airport's website.

People also need to consider the basic things, said Bednard.

“I know I had some members of my family who were looking to plan their trip and they hadn't even realized that one of their children had a passport that had expired because they hadn't used the passport in so long,” she said.

“It happened to my family and we're in the travel business.”