'You're on your own': Sympathy in short supply for snowbirds complaining about new travel rules

Elianna Lev
·4 min read

Most winters, Judi Sussman and her husband Les load up their car with their dogs and drive to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. This year, with restricted travel at the borders, heading down south didn’t seem like a viable option, so the Toronto-based retirees stayed put.

“In this situation it seems imprudent to travel, especially with restrictions the government is laying on, she said to Yahoo Canada. “I mean I get it, the people down there seem very happy.”

Snowbirds — Canadians who winter in warm locales — are currently facing stricter protocols when it comes to travelling outside the country. Starting this week, anyone who is flying home from abroad must take a COVID-19 test once they arrive back in Canada. They also must spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel, at their own expense. The cost for these precautions is upwards of $2,000.

The news has caused a stir on social media, with many expressing disdain for anyone who feels entitled to travel to sun destinations during a pandemic.

Michael MacKenzie, executive director with the Canadian Snowbird Association, says despite the focus of recent media reports, about 75 per cent of their 115,000 members are staying put this year. And while his association supports point of entry COVID-19 testing and getting tested upon landing, they don’t support the mandatory hotel quarantine and $2,000 fee.

“The majority of COVID in Canada is due to community transmission,” he says. “If you test positive in the community, they send you home for two weeks. If you test negative before you get on your flight and you land in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, they send you to a hotel and charge you $2,000 and you stay there for a few days.”

Travel expert Barry Choi says people are going to do what they want to do, but it doesn’t help that the Canadian government appears to be giving mixed messaging.

“The land border is closed to the U.S., but you can legally fly there, so it kind of contradicts itself,” he says. “The new changes with quarantine and the hotels, they’re telling people not to travel but they’re letting people in and out. If the government really wants to get things under control, they should maybe consider a longer quarantine or ban incoming flights completely.”

While she doesn’t regret her decision to stay in Canada for the winter, Sussman does envy all her friends and family in the U.S., who’ve already received their COVID-19 vaccinations.

“They’re living their life again,” she says. “They’re being cautious but they’re living their life. When I look at that, I think, ‘yeah, that would be nice.’”