House to Vote on Visa Waiver Program Changes

Originally published on Travel Market Report.

The House is getting set to unveil a new bill that, if passed, would secure changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and make it more difficult for citizens of other VWP countries to enter the United States.

Under the bill, any person who has traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years will not be eligible for the VWP, and would be forced to get a traditional tourist visa before coming into the country. In addition, countries participating in the VWP would be required to get a traveler’s fingerprints and photo before travel, to issue smart e-passports to travelers, and to screen travelers’names against criminal databases.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the senators that introudced the bill, said that the attacks in Paris prove that the VWP makes it easier for terrorists to get through a gap in security.

“As growing numbers of foreign nationals travel to the Middle East to train and fight, and with 45 million lost and stolen passports on the black market, we must do all we can to secure the program,” she said in a statement.

The bill will be voted on as soon as next week, and is expected to pass, says House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The news comes in the same week that the White House announced some changes to the program including allowing Homeland Security to further screen passengers based on any known travel to a country that it considers a “terrorist safe haven.” The House bill would push those changes farther.

Though many recognize the need for a change to the VWP after the attacks in Paris (as some of the Paris attackers were from countries who participate in the VWP), the U.S. Travel Association issued a statement saying it supports the bill but not “steps that ultimately dismantle the program and set back America’s economy and our efforts to protect the homeland.”

“The travel community is all in favor of a good-faith congressional debate about enhancements to the VWP, but if the [bill] imposes redundant, costly, inefficient protocols, it could ultimately do more harm than good,” USTA said in a statement.

Pic: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Air Canada Announces Major Expansion

Originally published on Travel Market Report.

Air Canada is expanding south of its border. Starting next year, it will roll out new flights to a number of new U.S. destinations from its three Canadian hubs.

The new routes will “support our international expansion by making it easier for international travelers flying to and from the U.S. to connect to Air Canada’s global network through its major Canadian hubs,” said Air Canada’s passenger airlines president Benjamin Smith.

Air Canada is now the foreign carrier that operates the most flights to the United States and serves the most American destinations. The new routes include direct routes as well as new connections through Houston, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles, operated by Air Canada mainline, Air Canada rouge, and Air Canada Express.

“International travelers are increasingly finding that connecting through Canada on Air Canada is the most convenient way to fly to and from the U.S. and between the U.S. to both Europe and Asia,” Smith said.

Most of the new routes are also cities that the other big Canadian carrier, WestJet, doesn’t fly to direct.

The airline is expanding into other markets, with a new Seoul route set to debut next year and a new Toronto to Dubai nonstop starting this month.

Also this month, the airline’s major competition in the Canadian market, WestJet, announced it will start charging $25 for all bags on new economy bookings as of Jan. 6, 2016, and raise fees for reserved and exit-row seats by $10 and $20, respectively.

Talking during the airline’s conference call to discuss its third-quarter results, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said that the airline wouldn’t be matching its competitor’s policy, explaining that the scope of his airline isn’t even comparable to WestJet.

“We’re not going to turn ourselves upside down because of what our domestic competitor is doing,” he said.

Other news
Air Canada also announced that it has come to an agreement with its 6,500 flights attendants on a new 10-year labor deal that includes annual wage increases and job security for members of the flight attendant union, CUPE.

“With annual wage increases, unprecedented job security along with numerous important improvements to working conditions, Air Canada flight attendants, at both mainline and Rouge, secured a better future,” said the president of CUPE’s Air Canada section Michel Cournoyer.

The airline is in the midst of reaching labor deals with most of its unions. Last year, Air Canada and its pilots reached a 10-year deal, and in June it reached a 5-year deal with its customer service staff union, Unifor.

Air Canada’s contract with the International Assocation of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who represent its baggage handlers and machinist, expires next month and the two groups are reportedly in preliminary talks.

Earlier this month, a labor dispute between Lufthansa and its flight attendants union, UFO, caused hundreds of thousands of travelers to be stranded at airports across Europe.

Pic: Raimond Spekking