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Snowbirds eager to take flight this winter

Retirees and holiday-makers are anxious to return to the U.S. this winter as borders re-open and COVID-19 case counts decline.

Alberta snowbirds are expected to head toward their winter getaways in greater numbers this year, after the announced re-opening of the Canada-U.S. land border to non-essential travel.

“There has been an incredible uptick in interest. Snowbirds are champing at the bit," said Martin Firestone, a travel insurance consultant with Travel Secure. “They missed a whole year away and they do not want to be gone two years in a row.”

On October 13, the U.S. government announced that fully vaccinated visitors from Canada--including those with mixed vaccines (one Astra Zeneca, one mRNA, for example) will be welcomed at land border crossings beginning November 8.

Firestone pointed out double-vaccinated travellers will not require a COVID-19 insurance rider, adding “providers see very little risk here.”

One couple beating the expected rush south is Brian and Lori Paush of Edmonton, who had not stayed at their winter home in Mesquite, Nevada since March of 2020.

Although they would have preferred to drive, they opted to fly because they have a vehicle in Nevada.

"We are comfortable and confident," said Brian, adding "getting the vaccinations was key for us."

The couple say they take all necessary COVID-19 precautions while at their home, which is in a retirement community of 25,000 about 120 km northeast of Las Vegas.

The couple travelled down in early October on a WestJet flight that was one-quarter full.

"Been spending the week in our backyard and golf course and enjoying the warm weather,” said Brian.

Edmontonians Wendy Munson and Tom Walsh spent last winter at their home near Tampa, Florida and are flying down again in November for five months.

"I’m happy for the snowbirds that are now able to drive across the border. We're fortunate because we have a vehicle down there."

"The main reason we went down last year is the weather and the lifestyle," said Munson, adding they received their COVID-19 vaccinations while in Florida earlier this year.

“We want to get back down there so we can get our booster shot too," said Munson.

Munson admits Florida is "not as strict as they are here in Alberta but we are cautious. You always wear a mask when you go out."

Gord Derk and Joanne Berube of Edmonton spent last winter at their home in Surprise, Arizona and did not hesitate to return this fall. The pair was vaccinated in the U.S. this spring.

"Our home is in a retirement community so we seldom go out of it," said Derk, who also keeps a vehicle at the U.S. home. "The restrictions are enforced. We don't go into crowds at all."

The border reopening is welcome news for snowbirds that opted to ship their vehicles for about $2,000 one-way and then fly down.

“(Shipping your vehicle) was cheaper than renting a car,” said a 71-year-old snowbird from Edmonton.

A travel representative with Alberta Motor Association is pleased with the border decision but reminds snowbirds to remain cautious.

"It is absolutely fantastic," said Michelle Noble, AMA sales and service director, adding, "You will still need to fit all the requirements and testing.” (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories) (A negative PCR test is required for all travelers returning back to Canada.)

AMA representative Roland Van Meurs reminds travellers to take the same precautions as they do with any trip away, including having appropriate insurance and to be aware of available health facilities at their destination. 

"What I always caution is: ‘Is there a spot in the hospital if something did happen?'" asked Van Meurs. "If you contract COVID while you are down there, it could affect your flight home."

For the latest on COVID-19 restrictions and requirements upon return to Canada, see travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories.