A group of travelers began their trip with disappointment when they were not allowed to board a Swoop flight leaving Toronto on Tuesday the 19th. Swoop Airlines staff told passengers that a negative COVID-19 test was still required to board, even though the Jamaican government had eliminated that requirement last week.
A passenger on flight WO644, Andre Newell, said that many families were not allowed to board the plane after Swoop did not inform their staff of the updated COVID-19 travel policies. According to Newell, when passengers arrived at the check-in desk, they were surprised to be told by airline staff that they would need a negative COVID-19 test result to board the plane. Swoop sent many passengers to a Switch Health counter to pay approximately $70 for last-minute Covid tests.
Another passenger, Shanique Kerr, had booked her flight along with her young son to make it to a funeral in Jamaica. According to Kerr, Swoop airlines had previously sent out an email informing passengers that they would not require a negative Covid test to board the flight. Kerr arrived three hours ahead of the scheduled departure time to Toronto Pearson International Airport only to be told by Swoop staff that she would need to provide proof of a negative Covid test.
According to Kerr, she showed the Swoop employees their own company’s website, which states that as of April 16, the island no longer requires travelers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test taken within 72 hours of departure. The staff did not back down, and Kerr was forced to go to a different airport area to get Switch Health’s COVID-19 test, which cost $67.80 and took 30 minutes to get the results back. By the time Kerr got back to her gate, she had missed her flight.
Kelsey Trainor, a spokesperson for Swoop, recognized the error. “We are aware that some travelers booked on flight WO644 from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica experienced challenges at airport check-in this morning as a result of miscommunication with our ground service provider and we sincerely apologize for the interruption to their travel plans,” Trainor said. “The check-in process for this morning’s flight operated under the understanding that Jamaica still required travelers to present a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test to enter the country, despite the requirements having been updated recently.”
Trainor apologized on behalf of Swoop, saying the company was “deeply sorry for the inconvenience and frustration this error has caused some travelers.” According to Trainor, the passengers impacted by the canceled flight were given the option to take a WestJet flight on Wednesday the 20th, which would include hotel accommodation, transport, and a meal allowance.
Trainor said that 189 people were scheduled on the flight and that most of them had provided proof of a negative COVID test since they remained unaware of the requirement change. She said that approximately 50 patrons were affected and had all been given new accommodation or a refund.
In contrast to Trainor’s statement, Andre Newell said that only about half of the seats in the plane were occupied when the aircraft made its departure. Newell only made the flight after rushing to secure a Covid test at the Switch Health Counter. He attributes his success at boarding to not having any luggage or young children and says many families were not as fortunate. Newell assumed most passengers didn’t make it on the plane. “It’s just really disappointing for so many people who haven’t traveled in a long time who have probably been looking forward to this trip for months now. The impact of something so minor was probably devastating for some of these people,” he said.
As more countries drop travel requirements, airlines need to ensure their policies are up to date and their staff are aware of each country’s policies. Travelers wishing to visit Jamaica can now do so with no restrictions, hearkening back to a time before the global pandemic.
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