Over 700,000 Canadians flew internationally in December despite Omicron surge

For many Canadians, the Omicron variant wasn't going to stop their holiday travel plans.

Despite the federal government's advisory against travelling outside of Canada amid surging COVID-19 cases taking effect midway through December, last month saw more international travel to and from Canada than any other period since the start of the pandemic.

Data collected by the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that 742,400 Canadians flew back into the country through Canadian airports in December. That's a nearly eight-fold increase from December 2020, which only saw 93,800 Canadian travellers.

The week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, right after Christmas, saw the highest volume of travel into Canada. There were 215,665 Canadian citizens who returned to Canada by air that week.

For foreign nationals flying into Canada, Dec. 20 to 26 was the busiest week for travel. The data says 125,526 foreign nationals flew into the country that week and 352,900 for the entire month of December.

Although air travel appears to have rebounded significantly, these numbers are still a far cry from December 2019, which saw over 1.1 million Canadians and 577,800 foreign nationals travel by air.

At the land border, there were 608,900 Canadians returning from the U.S. in December, which is up four times from the previous year. Americans also took 291,600 trips to Canada that month.

In response to rising COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron, the federal government on Dec. 15 issued an advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the country. The feds also tightened testing requirements at the border on Dec. 21, once again mandating that all travellers entering Canada present a negative molecular test result, regardless of trip length or vaccination status.

Cross-border trips also plummeted after the testing requirement went into effect. In the first 20 days of December, 24,600 Canadians on average returned from the U.S. After Dec. 21, the average fell to 10,600, less than half of what it was earlier in the month.

Travellers returning to Canada by air from any country other than the U.S. may also be randomly selected to undergo a PCR test on arrival. But as provinces struggle with their own PCR testing capacity, airports and airlines say testing arrival testing is not the best use of resources and have called on the federal government to drop the requirement.

On the U.S. side, the Department of Homeland Security now requires Canadians and other foreign travellers entering through its land borders to be fully vaccinated as of Saturday. Foreign travellers flying into the U.S. had already been required to present proof of vaccination.