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Half a million passengers faced delays on international flights at Pearson in May - THE CANADIAN PRESS

JUNE 11, 2022

"Pearson airport is hell on earth."

So declared Ryan Whitney, a former NHLer, in a social media post from Toronto’s main airport this week.

The one-time Edmonton Oilers defenceman laid bare his exasperation after undergoing a gauntlet of lines, delays, cancellations, and rebookings during an Air Canada stopover at Canada’s busiest travel hub. He said he landed at Pearson at 3 p.m. on Sunday and didn’t take off for Boston until 1 p.m. the next day.

"I am so in shock at this place. It is the biggest disgrace known to man," he told his 414,300 Twitter followers in a selfie video from the gate.

"I’m gonna have a viral meltdown."

Scenes of endless security and customs queues at large Canadian airports — and Pearson in particular — have played out all spring, with peak travel season weeks away. While the federal government has pledged to cancel random COVID-19 testing at customs and hire hundreds more customs and security screening officers, hurdles ranging from staffing shortages to tarmac delays threaten to cascade into a problem that overmatches efforts to drain clogged terminals.

"I think it's just going to get worse," former Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee said in an interview.

"The only thing consistent that's happened at Canadian airports for two months now is there have been delays."

Nearly half a million passengers were held up after arriving on international flights at Pearson airport last month. Some 490,810 travellers, or about half of all arrivals from abroad, faced delays as they sat on the tarmac or faced staggered off-loading to ease pressure on overflowing customs areas, according to figures provided by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

In total, some 2,700 flights arriving from outside the country were delayed at Pearson last month, versus four planes — and a few hundred passengers — in May 2019.

And passenger volume is only likely to increase, with the summer holidays about to kick off and the United States announcing Friday it will drop COVID-19 testing requirements for inbound air travellers from abroad starting Sunday.

On Friday, the federal government announced it would suspend randomized COVID-19 tests of vaccinated passengers starting Saturday until at least June 30. The move walks back a previous vow to maintain testing at airport customs until that date and accedes to demands from the industry, which hoped to process travellers more swiftly.

The announcement came hours after chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said randomized testing serves as "an early warning system" that detects new variants as they filter into the country and indicates global trends such as infection rates abroad.

Three in 100 tests remain positive, she said.

Passenger numbers still trail pre-pandemic levels, but Canadians' travel spending — on airline, travel agency and car rental bookings — have topped 2019 levels since mid-March, RBC chief economist Craig Wright said in a research note Tuesday.

Airlines are not configured to deal with the ensuing hours-long security and customs delays, Dee said.

"That crew that was scheduled to operate your flight? They’re out of duty time because the flight they operated this morning was held off gate for two hours," he wrote on Twitter, referring to regulatory limits on hours worked by flight crews within one-day and four-week periods.

"That aircraft that was scheduled to operate your morning flight? Sorry, it missed its scheduled maintenance last night because it couldn’t offload its passengers on time because the customs hall was full."

Meanwhile a flight missed due to a long security queue or delayed connecting flight may take six hours to rebook — as in Whitney's case — since agents slated to cover the customer service counter are still working to board passengers on a different delayed plane. Similar snags confront baggage handlers.

"It just cascades," said Helane Becker, an analyst for banking firm Cowen, citing a lack of predictability.

"The watchword for the summer is patience."

Between June 1 and June 9, Air Canada cancelled nine per cent of its scheduled flights at Pearson, according to flight data firm Cirium. The scrapped flights were evenly split between arrivals and departures.

"These days, airlines are facing the double whammy of a shortage of pilots, flight attendants and ground handlers and then lumpy demand on their network," said Cirium spokesman Mike Arnot.

"Some planes are full, and some are not." Partially booked flights may be nixed in order to funnel passengers onto other planes and boost efficiency.

Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, was bound for Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. for work on Thursday, but wound up waiting on the Pearson tarmac pre-takeoff for four hours after a delayed boarding due to a dearth of flight attendants.

"And then they said they had a flight attendant, but now they didn't have a pilot, so they were flying in a pilot from Montreal," she said.

After disembarking from the first Air Canada plane, she sat on a second one for two more hours.

"It was very frustrating."

Ottawa has said the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) will have 400 more personnel deployed at airports by month's end.

But the hiring process takes time, with clearance from one of CATSA's three subcontractors and an RCMP criminal background check required, on top of clearance from the local airport authority and Transport Canada.

There are also different levels of security clearance, with a "relaxed" clearance allowing the agent to check boarding passes and a tougher-to-obtain full clearance permitting actual screening of luggage, said Teamsters Canada spokeswoman Catherine Cosgrove, who represents about 1,000 airport screeners.

An additional transborder security clearance makes it harder to staff checkpoints on international flights, adding to their typically longer wait times.

“It’s like rewiring a house while still living in it," she said. "It’s going to take months to a year."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

— With files from Marie Woolf in Ottawa

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Airport chaos is a threat to Canada’s brand - YAHOO FINANCE

JUNE 11, 2022

After more than two years, Canadian travel demand has finally returned – and with that has come long lines and delays at some of the busiest airports in the country. Many travellers, particularly those at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, are facing long lines at security and customs, and some international passengers are waiting for hours on the tarmac due to delays. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government is working on reducing wait times at Canadian airports, hiring hundreds of new agents for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and creating a task force to address the bottlenecks.

On this episode of Editor’s Edition, Yahoo Finance Canada’s Alicja Siekierska and the Public Policy Forum’s Sean Speer discuss what impact the situation at Canadian airport could have on travel and tourism in the country. "At this stage, there is a threat of a kind of brand erosion for Canada as a travel destination and for Canadian airlines as a means of travelling internationally," Speer said.

If you have any policy-related questions, or feedback about the show, please email [email protected]

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SEAN SPEER: I would just say this, Alicja. I think that at this stage, there is a threat of a kind of brand erosion for Canada as a travel destination and for Canadian airlines as a means to traveling internationally. And in recent days, a high-profile podcaster has posted about his experience at Pearson.

Last I saw, Alicja, that video had something like 4 or 5 million views. And so if you're thinking about where to travel this summer or how to travel, I think people will be inclined to stay away from Pearson in general and Burnie in particular and Canada in general and to stay away from Air Canada, not just because of the delays but because, I think, a perception that the company has not handled it very well.

I have enormous sympathy for people who are going through these experiences at Pearson airport and dealing with Air Canada in these circumstances. Imagine having young children and being stuck in lines for hours and hours and missing flights and having to make new arrangements. So I guess the net effect is that, while the government and the different airlines are pointing fingers at one another, the one thing that they have fundamentally in common is it's in both their interest to solve these issues and protect people's perceptions of Canada as a destination and our airlines as a means of transportation, or both will suffer greatly.

ALICJA SIEKIERSKA: I think you've already seen business groups and leaders kind of raising the alarm on that front and the impact that this could have on tourism. It was Janet De Silva, who's president and CEO of the Toronto Regional Board of Trade was in particular flagging this at a press conference last month, saying that we must demonstrate to potential visitors, especially our business visitors, that they can travel easily and without undue challenges to our region. We need to make this a good experience. We are painfully and inexcusably behind in Toronto.

So it's clearly a concern that's not just an inconvenience for travelers but potentially for businesses and the greater community here in Ontario and obviously in cities across the country. So what needs to be done here? What should the government and different stakeholders here be doing to fix this?

SEAN SPEER: I mean, in no particular order, I think probably eliminating some of these ongoing restrictions, including the use of the AirCan app seems like low hanging fruit too. Moving ahead with more staffing at CASA to try to get people through security lines faster.

I think customs staff is a big piece of the puzzle, because the waits just aren't at security proper. They're at customs and basically all the way through the process. And then it seems to me, the crucial part is Air Canada needs to make sure that its customer service capacity is greater and that the people who are on the front lines are showing a degree of empathy.

I mentioned the experience of Ryan Whitney, this former hockey player who's now a podcaster. He talked about his experience at Pearson when he was there for something like 20 hours in the past few days. The most infuriating part was he just kept getting shifted around by different Air Canada desks after sitting and standing in line for hours and hours.

So even if the airlines ultimately think the government is responsible, I think there's still an onus and a kind of self-interest on their part to make sure that they're not exacerbating the problem by providing really poor-quality customer service. So I think there's kind of a pox on everyone's house and a need for everyone to do their part to try to solve for these issues before they create kind of lasting damage for the country and for these airlines.

Turkey to Impose Residence Quotas on Foreigners From July 1 - BLOOMBERG

JUNE 11, 2022

(Bloomberg) --

Turkey, host of world’s largest refugee population, will begin imposing quotas on the number of residence permits for foreigners next month as anti-immigrant sentiment piles pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before next year’s elections. 

Turkey will limit residence permits for foreigners to 20% of the population of certain neighborhoods across the nation as of July 1, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said to the press at the Directorate General of Migration Management in Ankara, according to Hurriyet newspaper’s website. The rule will effectively shut 1,200 neighborhoods to more foreign residents, Soylu said. 

Officials are trying to contain public discontent as an economic decline fuels anger over the presence of about 3.7 million Syrian refugees who are competing with Turkish citizens for jobs as runaway inflation erodes living standards. The growing anti-refugee sentiment has emboldened opposition politicians who want to unseat Erdogan and has become a major political issue ahead of the election.

Anger Over 3.7 Million Refugees Is Piling Pressure on Erdogan

Earlier in May, Erdogan announced a plan to return 1 million Syrians to a Turkish-controlled strip of territory, though said the repatriation program will be voluntary.

Smuggling booms at Seme border 18 months after reopening - PUNCH

JUNE 11, 2022

BY Anozie Egole


Eighteen months after the Federal Government announced the reopening of the Seme border following a 14-month closure, smuggling is once more thriving there, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

When the Federal Government announced the closure of the Seme border in August 2019, the intention was to curb the smuggling of goods and weapons.

A tour of the border by our correspondent showed that there was a lull in commercial activities in the community, while smuggling continued to boom.

The once busy J4 and J5 motor parks located at the border community, where commuters board vehicles to different parts of Lagos State, have long been demolished with little or no space left for vehicles again.

A motorcyclist, Mr Orji Ike, who specialises in conveying passengers across the border, said, “The business of smuggling is booming now unlike before. During the border closure, it was moving very slowly as people were being careful not to be caught. Now, people freely go to Cotonou to buy second-hand clothing and come in and nobody disturbs anybody.

“Even if you want to buy cannabis sativa, I will take you across and when you are done, call me I will come and pick you and nobody will disturb you, but that one comes with extra charges”

Corroborating the motorcyclist, a trucker, who gave his name simply as Babafryo, added that smuggling of all types of contraband was booming at the border.

He said, “There is no type of goods that we can’t carry across or bring in here; at worst, we go through the waterside. Many people, especially those crossing with contraband, go through the waterside to avoid disturbance even though there is little or no disturbance on the normal route.

“If you are coming in with large quantities of contraband, we have the type of cars we use to bring such goods in and the time so that nobody will disturb the cars. Though business is still very dull now compared to before the closure, we are very hopeful it will pick up. In case you have any thing that you want us to help you take across to either Seme or to bring to Nigeria, let us know; that is what we do.”

A resident of the area, Blessing Adejo, lamented that there had been a massive drop in activities at the border following the closure and eventual reopening, even as he blamed the Monday sit-at-home by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra in the South-East as the reason the border was dry when our correspondent visited the community on Monday.

“The truth is that since the closure and reopening of the border, activities have been very slow here; you can see how we are just standing with no work. People are not travelling; I believe another reason why the border is so dry today is because of the Monday sit-at-home in the South-East,” Adejo stated.

When queried on why he blamed the sit-at-home as the reason why activities at the border remained low, he said, “We all know that the Igbo travel a lot; they make use of this border more. So, since the sit-at-home started, most of them coming from the South-East cannot come on Mondays, but other days are better.”

A food vendor, Ijeoma Onye, said activities in the area had been paralysed due to the closure and eventual reopening of the border.

Adejo also said a lot of people had relocated out of the area adding, “Some of the people who are doing business in the area have travelled due to low patronage. The area is no longer the way it used to be before the border closure. We are, however, hopeful that business will soon pick up again.”

The Seme chapter Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Lasisi Fanu, said it was now more expensive to bring in goods through the border than through the seaports.

He said members of the association spent a minimum of N1.8m to clear a 40-foot container and N1.3m to clear a 20-foot container, adding that the government had stopped informal trade, which was affecting their businesses drastically.

Fanu stated, “There has not been any change since they reopened the border; the border was reopened in 2020 and nothing drastically has changed. The clearing procedure in Cotonou still remains the same; it has been N1.8m for 40-foot and N1.3m for 20-foot containers.

“Before now, we used trucks to load goods from Cotonou directly, so you can combine more than one container in a truck and move it as one, because it was an informal trade then. But before they reopen the border, they said the informal trade must stop and it has stopped. They said the goods must move into Nigeria in the original form, which is containerised, and it must be received by the Nigeria Customs Service before you can think of opening the container.”

He also said that most of the trucks with goods going to Cotonou were under the Economic Community of West African Trade Liberalisation Scheme.Fanu added, “So with that in Nigeria now, we work with the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report. Though we worked with the PAAR before, we paid in bulk as informal trade, but now,  you open PAAR with the container number and you pay the same amount and still pay in Lagos and Port Harcourt.

“So, that extra amount we pay in Cotonou stands to be something extraordinary, because it is not applicable for people that import through Lagos. If, for instance, you spend N2.5m as the landing cost from Cotonou, Lagos will spend N1.5m because of the extra cost of clearing in the Cotonou port.”

Fanu said life in the border community had been tough since the reopening because the government had failed to show its presence in the community.

He advised the government to establish a truck park at the border, adding that the facility would generate revenue for the government.

Fanu added, “Life has been tough here since the reopening of the border. If the government of Nigeria can provide some services at the border post like trailer parks, they will be generating revenue for the government. But the government doesn’t want to do that; how do you think people living in the border community will survive? They will have to involve themselves in one illegal trade or the other.

“So, life here is very tough because the government has failed to show its presence in the community. We have been asking to be given facilities, but they have refused. Seme border happens to be the only industry in this area, likewise Idiroko and Owode. Since the reopening, nothing has been given to the border community.”

Also speaking, the Seme border Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Ekene Onyeebuchi, said, “There is not much change at the border; presently we don’t have enough work here as business no longer come. Imported goods are very scanty here; once in a while you will see one or two containers. Before the closure, business was booming, but now, to clear goods here is more expensive because the government of Benin Republic has added some charges to what we pay.

“They now take a high transit charge; we spend CFA1.4m in Cotonou, which is almost the same thing with the naira and you need to carry it by truck to the border where you will spend almost CFA500,000. And they have a container deposit of about CFA3m. So, these are some of the challenges and the government will take some percentage out as tax.”

Speaking on the issue of smuggling, the Customs Public Relations Officer in charge of the command, Husseni Abdullahi, said, “There is no country in the world where there is no smuggling, the countries only fight to reduce it to the barest minimum.

“There is no country in the world where smuggling has been stopped completely; we only try to suppress smuggling to the barest minimum and to the best of our ability. I know that officers and men of my command are doing their best to ensure that we suppress smuggling to the barest minimum.”

He said the commonest products smuggled through the route were petroleum products and so far, the command had seized over 300,000 litres

Abdullahi stated, “And to tell you the fact that we are doing that, the common smuggling activity in this terrain is smuggling of petroleum products and as far as I am concerned, the command is doing wonderfully well on that aspect. I can tell you that between January and now, we have over 327,000 litres of petroleum products seized by the officers.

“We are still on that even as I am talking to you, we still have seizures of petroleum products. We have measures to suppress smuggling in this axis aside from the Customs Area Controller patrol team, we have other patrol teams; we have the anti-bunkering unit that has to do with that one.

“And to God be the glory, we are achieving success in that regard. You will never see second-hand clothing in our domain because we don’t allow that; we have two approved checkpoints by the government.”

US lifts COVID-19 test requirement for international travel - THE CANADIAN PRESS

JUNE 11, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international travelers test negative for COVID-19 within a day before boarding a flight to the United States, ending one of the last remaining government mandates designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the requirement will end early Sunday morning. The health agency said it will continue to monitor state of the pandemic and will reassess the need for a testing requirement if the situation changes.

“This step is possible because of the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19,” said U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Airline and tourism groups have been pressing the administration for months to eliminate the testing requirement, saying it discourages people from booking international trips because they could be stranded overseas if they contract the virus on their trip.

Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, called lifting the testing rule “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”

Airlines argued that the rule was put into effect when few Americans were vaccinated — now 71% of those 5 and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures. They also complained that people entering the U.S. at land borders are not required to test negative for COVID-19, although they must show proof of vaccination.

While domestic U.S. travel has returned nearly to pre-pandemic levels, international travel — which is very lucrative for the airlines — has continued to lag. In May, U.S. international air travel remained 24% below 2019 levels, with declines among both U.S. and foreign citizens, according to trade group Airlines for America.

Many other countries have lifted their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers in a bid to increase tourism.

Some infectious-disease experts said they were comfortable with the CDC’s decision, and that lifting the restriction is unlikely to cause further spread of the virus in the U.S.

Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said the rule was designed to prevent importing the virus, “but we’ve got plenty of COVID here. It’s like telling someone not to pour a bucket of water in their swimming pool.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong at the University of California, San Francisco, said travel restrictions demonstrate that officials are trying to keep variants out, "but they haven't really shown to be beneficial, ever." However, he said, requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated makes sense to avoid straining the U.S. health-care system with people who could develop severe disease.

The requirement for a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the U.S. dates to January 2021 and is the most visible remaining U.S. travel restriction of the pandemic era.

In April, a federal judge in Florida struck down a requirement that passengers wear masks on planes and public transportation, saying that the CDC had exceeded its authority. The Biden administration is appealing that ruling, saying it aims to protect the CDC's ability to respond to future health emergencies.

The Biden administration put the testing requirement in place as it moved away from rules that banned nonessential travel from dozens of countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and focused instead on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others. It was coupled with a requirement that foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions.

The initial mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to show proof of a negative test within three days of travel, while unvaccinated people had to present a test taken within one day of travel.

In November, as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept the world, the Biden administration toughened the requirement and required all travelers — regardless of vaccination status — to test negative within a day of travel to the U.S.

In February, travel groups argued that the testing requirement was obsolete because of the high number of omicron cases already in every state, higher vaccinations rates and new treatments for the virus.

Meanwhile, travelers found creative ways around the rule. This spring, several Canadian teams in the National Hockey League flew to cities near the border, then took buses into the U.S. to avoid the risk of losing players who tested positive.

U.S. airlines estimate that dropping the test requirement will mean 4.3 million more passengers in one year.

It is unclear, however, whether airlines can boost flights quickly enough to handle that kind of increase. Airlines facing a shortage of pilots have already scaled back their original schedules for the peak summer vacation season.

Brett Snyder, a travel adviser who writes about the industry at CrankyFlier.com, said the requirement has caused some people to postpone international travel.

“It’s not that they are afraid of getting sick, they don’t want to get stuck,” Snyder said. He thinks there will now be a surge in booking those trips, “which, if anything, will lead to higher fares.”

Hotels, theme parks and other travel businesses also lobbied the administration to drop the rule.

“The whole industry has been waiting for this announcement,” said Martin Ferguson, a spokesman for American Express Global Business Travel, which advises companies on travel policy. He said there are few remaining pandemic policies that cause so much consternation for the travel sector, with China's “zero-COVID” restrictions being another.

Despite ending the testing requirement, the CDC said it still recommends COVID-19 testing prior to air travel of any kind as a safety precaution.


Koenig reported from Dallas. AP Medical Reporter Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.

Zeke Miller And David Koenig, The Associated Press

Tourism recovers as COVID-19 restrictions ease, confidence returns - THE GUARDIAN

JUNE 11, 2022

By Maria Diamond


… Europe And America Leads Recovery As Destinations Open Up
The tourism sector has continued to recover at a strong pace globally as destinations now welcome approximately three times as many international arrivals in the first quarter of 2022, with Europe and America leading the sector’s rebound.

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer revealed that international tourism saw a 182% year-on-year increase in January-March 2022, with destinations worldwide welcoming an estimated 117 million international arrivals compared to 41 million in Q1 2021. Of the extra 76 million international arrivals for the first three months, about 47 million were recorded in March, showing that the recovery is gathering pace.

UNWTO data shows that during the first quarter of 2022, Europe welcomed almost four times as many international arrivals (+280%) as in Q1 of 2021, with results driven by strong intra-regional demand.

In the Americas arrivals more than doubled (+117%) in the same three months. However, arrivals in Europe and the Americas were still 43% and 46% below 2019 levels respectively.

The Middle East (+132%) and Africa (+96%) also saw strong growth in Q1 2022 compared to 2021, but arrivals remained 59% and 61% below 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific recorded a 64% increase over 2021 but again, levels were 93% below 2019 numbers as several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.

By sub-region, the Caribbean and Southern Mediterranean Europe continue to show the fastest rates of recovery. In both, arrivals recovered to nearly 75% of 2019 levels, with some destinations reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Although international tourism remains 61% below 2019 levels, the gradual recovery is expected to continue throughout 2022, as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions and pent-up demand is unleashed.

As of June 2, 45 destinations of which 31 are in Europe had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place. In Asia, an increasing number of destinations have started to ease those restrictions.

However, despite these positive prospects, a challenging economic environment alongside the military offensive of the Russian Federation in Ukraine pose a downside risk to the ongoing recovery of international tourism. The Russian offensive on Ukraine seems to have had a limited direct impact on overall results so far, although it is disrupting travel in Eastern Europe but the conflict is having major economic repercussions globally, exacerbating already high oil prices and overall inflation as well as disrupting international supply chains, which results in higher transport and accommodation costs for the tourism sector.

Notwithstanding there is a huge anticipation of a stronger than expected recovery ahead as the latest UNWTO Confidence Index showed a marked uptick. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the index returned to levels of 2019, reflecting rising optimism among tourism experts worldwide, building on strong pent-up demand, in particular intra-European travel and US travel to Europe.

According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, an overwhelming majority of tourism professionals (83%) see better prospects for 2022 compared to 2021, as long as the virus is contained and destinations continue to ease or lift travel restrictions. However, the ongoing closure of some major outbound markets, mostly in Asia and the Pacific, as well as the uncertainty derived from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, could delay the effective recovery of international tourism. Still, a higher number of experts (48%) now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2023 (from 32% in the January survey), while the percentage indicating this could happen in 2024 or later (44%) has diminished compared to the January survey (64%). Meanwhile by the end of April, international air capacity across the Americas, Africa, Europe, North Atlantic and the Middle East has reached or is close to 80% of pre-crisis levels and demand is following.

Hence, UNWTO has revised its outlook for 2022 due to stronger-than-expected results in the first quarter of 2022, a significant increase in flight reservations, and prospects from the UNWTO Confidence Index. International tourist arrivals are now expected to reach 55% to 70% of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on several circumstances including the rate at which destinations continue to lift travel restrictions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, possible new outbreaks of coronavirus and global economic conditions, particularly inflation and energy prices.

Nigerian, other African airlines record 116% passenger growth –IATA - PUNCH

JUNE 11, 2022

BY Funmilayo Fabunmi


The International Air Transport Association says air travel in Africa including Nigeria has resumed its strong recovery trend, despite the war in Ukraine and travel restrictions in China.

The global trade body representing over 290 international airlines across 120 countries said the growth was driven primarily by international demand.

African airlines’ traffic rose 116.2 per cent in April 2022 versus a year ago, an acceleration over the 93.3 per cent year-over-year increase recorded in March 2022. April 2022 capacity was up by 65.7 per cent  and load factor climbed 15.7 percentage points to 67.3 per cent.

The statement read in part, “International RPKs rose 331.9 per cent versus April 2021, an acceleration over the 289.9 per cent rise in March 2022 compared to a year ago. Several route areas are actually above pre-pandemic levels, including Europe – Central America, Middle East – North America and North America – Central America. April 2022 international RPKs were down 43.4 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.”

IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, was quoted as saying, “With the lifting of many border restrictions, we are seeing the long-expected surge in bookings as people seek to make up for two years of lost travel opportunities. April data is cause for optimism in almost all markets, except China, which continues to severely restrict travel.

“ The experience of the rest of the world is demonstrating that increased travel is manageable with high levels of population immunity and the normal systems for disease surveillance. We hope that China can recognize this success soon and take its own steps towards normality.”

Travel to the US: latest Covid rules as travel tests to be scrapped - THE TELEGRAPH

JUNE 11, 2022

The US will finally remove its requirement for international arrivals to show proof of a recent negative Covid test, according to a government official.

The Biden administration is set to announce today that tests will no longer be a condition of entry from 12.01am on Sunday, June 12. Currently, all visitors, including children aged two or older, must show evidence of a negative test (either PCR or rapid antigen) taken no earlier than the calendar day before boarding their flight.

However, the official said that the decision to remove testing will be reassessed in 90 days. "If there is a need to reinstate a pre-departure testing requirement  including due to a new, concerning variant – the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will not hesitate to act."

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Note that proof of full vaccination will still be required, with non-vaccinated travellers only permitted to visit in exceptional circumstances.

Happily, visitors are free to travel around the US as they did before the pandemic, and federal mask mandates have been removed.

Can I travel to the US?

Currently, British citizens must show evidence of both Covid vaccination and a negative test. However, the requirement to take a test is set to be scrapped from June 12.

The US authorities will accept any Covid-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are the AstraZeneca, BIBP/Sinopharm, Covishield, Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac vaccines. More details are on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US Embassy websites.

Until June 12, before boarding a flight to the US, passengers are required to show a negative test result taken no more than one day before travel (if your flight is on June 1, for example, the test should have been taken at any time on May 31 or June 1). All air passengers to the USA are also required to provide contact information to their airlines before boarding. You should check with your airline before you travel for more details. Full requirements for pre-travel testing can be found on the CDC website.

Do not forget, also, the pre-existing requirement to get a visa or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver to enter or transit the USA as a visitor. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need.

What are the rules for children?

Children 17 and under are exempt from the vaccination requirement. Children under two do not need to take a pre-departure test.

Are flights operating?

While all the scheduled airlines offering flights to and from the USA have resumed services since last November, not all destinations have been restored. It seems likely the volume of seats will not return to pre-pandemic levels until early 2023, meaning prices may well be higher for a while.

Flights are operating to Miami - Getty
Flights are operating to Miami - Getty

Do I need to wear a mask?

The Biden administration no longer enforces a mask mandate on public transportation, including planes, trains and taxis, after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the 14-month-old directive was unlawful.

Soon after the announcement, all major carriers including American Airlines (AAL.O), United Airlines (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), as well as national train line Amtrak, relaxed the restrictions effective immediately.

Individual states and counties reserve the right to require face coverings, but nearly all US jurisdictions have now scrapped their mask mandates in both indoor and outdoor settings (with the exception of healthcare settings), in favour of recommendations.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) publishes a handy online state-by-state-guide with more details.

What about Covid passports?

While a handful of states – notably New York and California – have sought to ban unvaccinated citizens from bars and restaurants, Covid passports have now been scrapped, even in these stricter jurisdictions.

Shall I take cash or pay for everything on a card?

If there is one thing the pandemic has advanced the cause of, it is cashless, and even touchless, payment systems. This makes it more important than ever to be able to pay on a credit or debit card.

Using your phone to pre-order and pay for food and other items in restaurants is now one of the biggest trends in US retail, and it is almost certainly here to stay, virus or no virus.

Fine airlines that break UK compensation rules, demand passengers - THE GUARDIAN

JUNE 11, 2022

Some of the thousands of people whose flights were cancelled or delayed during the half-term travel chaos have been told they will receive no compensation, leading to calls for a change to the way passengers are reimbursed ahead of what looks to be a chaotic summer for airlines.

Others have spoken of claims being lost and having to resubmit forms as many as seven times, while passengers caught up in earlier disruption said they have waited months for airlines to talk to them.

Consumer champions are calling for regulators to be given powers to fine airlines if they break compensation rules, fearing a repeat when the school summer holidays begin next month. Scheduled flight bookings for July are already above 2019 levels.

The beginning of June was the first time many people had taken a foreign holiday since the pandemic began, with about 2 million people travelling overseas. But staff shortages meant airlines and tour operators struggled to cope with demand.

Tui cancelled more than 180 flights, blaming “operational and supply chain issues”; British Airways cancelled 124 with several weeks’ notice and Wizz Air also dropped flights. EasyJet has cancelled more than 280 flights since 28 May and said it had told customers they could rebook, get a refund or “apply for compensation in line with regulations”.

But some easyJet passengers said they had been refused compensation. Ben Brabyn and his wife and two children were due to fly in the early afternoon on 27 May from Gatwick to Pisa in Italy for a family reunion that had originally been planned before the pandemic. After hours of delays, the flight was cancelled because it would not arrive in Pisa before a night-time curfew. EasyJet offered a rebooking for a flight several days later – after the reunion ended – so the Brabyns found a flight to Naples instead.

It meant money spent on parking at Gatwick, car hire in Pisa and accommodation was all wasted, with extra costs for last-minute plane tickets and car hire, leaving Brabyn about £1,500 out of pocket.

He assumed he would get a refund and £880 in compensation – £220 per person. But last week he received an email saying he was “ineligible”.

“I haven’t received a refund or any compensation,” Brabyn said. “There’s no way to challenge it. They didn’t give a reason. I had some sympathy before – it’s a difficult thing to manage. But not now.”

Other easyJet passengers said on social media that they had also been denied compensation too.

An easyJet spokesman apologised and said: “While we will of course be reimbursing the family in full for their alternative flight and other expenses incurred, as this flight was cancelled due to events beyond our control, in line with regulations compensation is not due on this occasion.”

Tui passengers said on social media that they had been denied compensation because the airline’s website said they were not listed, although some posted pictures of boarding passes online. Others said they had tried seven times to lodge a claim.

Tui apologised to customers and said a technical error on its flight manifest system had caused the problems which have now been fixed. Only a small number of passengers were affected, it said.

Some passengers have waited longer just for a response. Laurie O’Brien and her husband John Turville were due to fly to Buenos Aires on honeymoon on 3 April with British Airways, but their flight was cancelled when they were at Heathrow. They suffered a 13-hour delay on a replacement journey offered by BA.

Two months later, they have only received a generic email, O’Brien said. She believes they should receive £520 each for the cancellation and delay: “It’s unacceptable that we’ve received no apology or communication. It feels like they are hoping people will just forget about their claims.”

BA said it was sorry for the delay in responding to the couple and would contact them soon.

Lisa Webb, consumer law expert at Which?, said: “We’ve seen numerous examples of carriers failing to inform passengers of [their] rights and taking weeks to respond to claims – only to invite them to apply again because of technical errors. Consumers should not be made to jump through hoops to get the refunds and compensation they are legally owed.

“To prevent further abuse of passenger rights as the summer holiday season approaches, regulators must be given meaningful powers to hold rule-breaking carriers to account, starting with direct fining powers for the Civil Aviation Authority.”

Resolver, which helps customers raise complaints, said 2,949 people had already complained in June about cancelled flights – the monthly average last summer was less than 1,000. Resolver’s Martyn James said it was “an extraordinary number” and he had been flooded with enquiries.

“If a flight is cancelled then compensation applies so no one should be told that they don’t qualify unless there’s a specific reason that excludes a claim – the fault has to be that of the airline or foreseeable by them. So strike action is in, storm action is out. Air traffic control strike is out, understaffing is in.”

Passengers of most British airlines can escalate the matter to one of the CAA’s mediators, known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

People look at a departure board at Gatwick airport.
 >span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

In 2019, airlines and airports paid out £12.9m in compensation to exactly 18,000 of the 27,188 people who used ADR, according to quarterly CAA figures compiled by the Observer.

Complaints dropped during the pandemic when fewer people were flying, and in 2021 the number of successful claims also dropped significantly, with 2,550 claimants receiving a share of £1.7m, out of 9,627 claims. The CAA does not publish figures for complaints resolved or rejected by airlines and airports before ADR.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has proposed changing the rules to a system similar to the train delay compensation scheme, which some analysts say would mean lower compensation payments for travellers, but this would apply only to internal UK flights.

Airports have quietened since half-term, but are likely to see more queues in July, with possible strike action by pilots in Scandinavia and airport staff in France. In the UK, airlines and airports are struggling to replace 30,000 workers laid off during the pandemic. Shapps blamed the industry for poor planning, but industry leaders say recruits are taking other jobs because of three-month delays in getting security clearance for new airport staff.

ForwardKeys, which tracks tickets issued for scheduled flights, said July bookings were already at 102% of 2019 levels, and 93% for August. Olivier Ponti, vice-president for insights, said: “The destination currently performing most strongly is Turkey, where bookings are 116% ahead of the equivalent moment in 2019. It is followed by Greece, 50% ahead, and India, 31% ahead.”

Abta, the travel industry body, said 58% of people had booked a holiday for the next 12 months, up from 44% in October last year.

Why Nigerian Passports, Visas Are Scarce - LEADERSHIP

JUNE 12, 2022

by Christiana Nwaogu

 

Thousands of Nigerians in Diaspora and locally have applied, paid, and been captured but are yet to be issued their international passport booklets, along with foreign visitors seeking visas, continue to groan about the difficulties associated with the process, findings by LEADERSHIP Sunday reveal. 

This scarcity of booklets has been blamed the failure of the federal government to grant a window to the Nigeria Immigration Service to utilise part of the revenue generated in dollars and currencies from foreign embassies.

Worried by the scarcity, which they fear might last longer than envisaged , the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) now patronises operators of Bureaux De Change for forex to foot it bills and thus, produce the all important travel documents, in line with its mandate. Officially though, NIS denied turning to bureaux de change. The spokesperson of the service, Amos Okpu, said, “NIS is a government agency, it can’t patronise bureaux de change for any forex transactions whatsoever. “Remember that CBN monitors all transactions by government agencies including NIS. Moreover, the TSA policy certainly cannot allow such transactions for any government agency.” He concluded. 

LEADERSHIP Sunday however gathered that the shortage of passport booklets which many users believe has come to stay, is due to the foreign exchange policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) as it affects the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

Top sources at the ministry of interior and at the Immigration Service who pleaded not to be named, revealed that despite generating billions of naira through passports and visas issuance at its embassies, the federal government has failed to grant the NIS a window to utilise part of the revenue its generates from these embassies to boost production of booklets, thereby leaving the service to source for funds elsewhere.

They revealed that, ‘The NIS is handicapped. As it stands, it’s the local that takes care of the operations in the diaspora. The CBN is not giving the NIS a window to foreign exchange. Monies paid in embassies go straight to the CBN, with NIS getting nothing, except from its budgetary allocations. So, the company supplying the booklets goes to bureaux de change to buy foreign currencies for passports. It goes to bureau de change to buy dollars and meanwhile, NIS has not increased the price. So, it will eat into NIS revenue, because the printers will bring their bill and NIS has to pay them. 

According to these sources who however, acknowledged that there are several challenges associated with issuance of Nigerian passports and visas to Nigerians in embassies, to frantically address the issue of scarcity, it will require the intervention of both the executive and the legislature, because apart from not getting some of the revenue generated, depriving the service of adequate forex exchange is a major setback.

They said, “A lot of people are suffering because of this. Some Nigerians in Diaspora who returned to renew their passports dropped it and ran back overseas to secure their jobs. Students studying overseas seem to be the hardest hit because they return to school. This is very tough for them.” LEADERSHIPSHIP Sunday further learnt that the technical partner to the Nigeria Immigration Service, Newworks Solution and Investment Limited and the producers of the passport, Irish Smart Technology Nigeria, have been advocating for the increase in the cost of the passports to enable them make profit, due to naira depreciation. Other informed sources also told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the major reason why the passport booklets were scarce was because the producer of the passports, Irish Technologies was allegedly owed money that run into millions of dollars by NIS. 

Experts, are however of the view that although these citizens in Diaspora are not even complaining about the outrageous fees being charged, they should be able to process and collect their passport within a reasonable time as it is done in other countries.

A border security expert, Mr. Adadama Ifek said, “It is so sad that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is not giving the NIS a window to foreign exchange. So, what do you expect if the company supplying the booklets goes to bureau de change operators to buy foreign exchange for passports? Definitely, it will eat into NIS revenue, because the printers will bring their bill and NIS has to pay them. I strongly agree that this is the reason for the scarcity. Recall the in 2021, the federal government, through the ministry of interior, inaugurated the enhanced e-passport production centres and urged Nigerians to stop patronising touts and switch to online application. 

Though the minister of interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbseola then, assured stakeholders that new applicants would get their passports within six weeks while renewal would not exceed three weeks passport application and payments were being migrated to digital platforms, LEADERSHIP Sunday has observed that applicants still patronise touts and unscrupulous officials in the hope to beat the system and get expedited services. Experts who believe that the Nigerian passport is the highest affirmation of Nigerian citizenship, have further opined that it remains the responsibility of the government to provide the passport without any stress, within a reasonable period.

They said, ‘”Every Nigerian has the right to a Nigerian passport and it is our responsibility to put it in the hands of anyone desirous of it within the shortest possible time, without stress. The passport should be available within a considerable time of a successful application. Where there are issues, the applicant should be notified within 48 hours They criticised the Nigerian Immigration Service for engaging consultants to manage visa and passport-related matters at Nigerian missions across the world.

 

Though efforts to get the image maker of the service to react to this claim as at the time of filing this report proved abortive , LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that the minister of interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola recently acknowledged the pains of passports and visas seekers and empathised with citizens- home and in the diaspora for the unintentional stress they encounter while processing their passports in recent times. He was quoted to have said, “Each time Nigerians express their anger and frustration on the government over the inability of the passport offices to process their passports as quickly as required, we truly feel saddened – hence, our resolve to address it.


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