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Long-awaited reunions as Canada reopens to international travelers

September 12, 2021

By Vancouver Sun |

It had been almost five months since Vince Cumayas had seen his daughter Valentina, who is now 18 months old.

“I’ve missed that whole important time of her growing,” Cumayas said, holding a dozen roses in his left hand and excitedly casting his eyes to the right at the exit for international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday afternoon.

Valentina and her mom Megan had just landed from Japan. His mask hid it, but his eyes said his smile was wide.

“I’m very excited to see my daughter and my wife again,” Cumayas said, and he was soon rewarded as the three reunited beyond the ropes that cordon off 45 COVID-19 testing booths in the lobby outside the arrivals gate.

Tuesday was a slow day compared to what passenger traffic would have looked like at the same time of day two years ago.

But it was the first day travellers on overseas flights could return to Canada for discretionary travel and, provided they are vaccinated or pass tests upon both departure from their foreign starting point and again on landing, were allowed in the country without having to quarantine.

Easing restrictions began in August when U.S. citizens who are fully vaccinated began being allowed in without needing to quarantine.

A trickle
Flights arrived from Asia and Europe on Tuesday, but so far the family reunions have been occurring as a trickle, not a flood, said Robyn McVicker, YVR vice-president of passenger journey whose duties include emergency response, customer care, security and other responsibilities.

“We don’t expect it to get much busier,” McVicker said. “It is picking up again, but it’s been a very, very small increase … about 50 per cent of our regular numbers.”

Before the pandemic, 65,000 to 75,000 arrivals a day would pass through YVR, she said. Now there are about 30,000 a day, 10,000 of whom are international arrivals, compared to 30,000 to 40,000 international arrivals a day pre-COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing more than anything else is returning Canadians,” McVicker said. “We do expect more foreign nationals to come back who are vaccinated and meet all the requirements Canada has put together, and we do hope to see that.

“But we want to make sure it’s done in a measured and safe way.”

For an example of the reduction in flight numbers, you can look at Cathay Pacific, which used to fly to Vancouver 17 times a week. After a period of no flights during COVID-19, the Honk Kong-based carrier is back but with only three flights a week.

“We did have some flights throughout the pandemic that went between different parts of Asia and Vancouver,” McVicker said. “We still had flights to Taiwan, we still had flights to Beijing, to Shanghai, and Hong Kong, but in much, much reduced numbers.”

Because countries such as Australia and New Zealand are lock down again and China isn’t really open, McVicker said, that cuts down significantly on the flights that would have arrived in the past to the trans-Pacific hub that is YVR.

The international flights from Asia are coming from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, for the most part.

McVicker said she thinks people are still waiting to see how things play out.

“We probably will see a small increase in traffic, but it won’t be a watershed; it will be a slow rebuild of traffic as people test out what it’s like.”

YVR has been honoured with a 2021 Skytrax world airport award for COVID-19 airport excellence, the only Canadian airport to be so recognized.

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