Company that brings RVs over the border for snowbirds says business picking up despite the pandemic
VANCOUVER -- Canadians wanting to head south for the winter have found a way to get around the border restrictions.
Orton Ker and his wife, Debra, are Mexico bound for the winter.
“We obviously couldn’t drive across the border, and for our dog in particular – he’s over 100 pounds so none of the airlines would take him at all,” Ker told CTV News before boarding his chartered flight from Boundary Bay.
They’ve hired a Blaine-based company to transport their RV across the border for them, and took a chartered flight to Bellingham International Airport.
“On Vancouver Island in Lake Cowichan we’ve been really safe, “ he said, adding that “our little town in Los Barriles hasn’t had a case over five weeks so it’s very safe down there.”
“(Business has) picked up majorly,” said Jayde McElroy, vice-president of BidBuy Importers. “We’ve hired four more staff in the last couple weeks.”
Customers are dropped at the Bellingham airport, roughly a 12 minute flight, and that’s where McElroy drops off the vehicles. “We will take these vehicles through the commercial border, they will inspect it and do the paperwork, and make sure everything is safe and in order.”
Customers must pay their flight ticket separately from the cost of transporting a vehicle, which is about $1,000 for an RV.
“For cars it’s much cheaper,” said McElroy. “Anywhere from $400 to $600 if it’s got more goods in it.” The company can also transport pets for people who can’t fly with them.
“It makes it a little bit more expensive because the planes have to stop in Abbotsford first,” said McElroy. “Hopefully if this picks up enough this airport will be able to get the border office running again.”
He says his company has been importing vehicles for dealers and private customers since 2013, but when the border closed, business slowed, so this has kept them busy.
“We’re licensed transporters as well as importers, so basically we have them fill out a form to declare everything that’s going to be in the vehicle, and then we do it just like you would transport any commercial goods,” said McElroy.
On the Government of Canada website, an alert is in place urging Canadians to “avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada.” It goes on to say the majority of travellers right now are seniors over the age of 60 and, “if you are an older traveller, you may be immunocompromised, or have chronic medical conditions, such as obesity, that put you at risk of developing more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19.”
Despite the alert, snowbirds right across the country are booking trips. A company operating out of Hamilton, Ont., said it's doing trips five days a week.
“We’ve got people who have called and are coming in from Nova Scotia, we have people coming from Quebec, Ottawa area, and certainly lots from (northern Ontario),” said Dwayne Henderson, general manager of Great Lakes Helicopter.
Ker said he and his wife feel extremely safe, especially because they’re driving to Mexico in their RV.
“We’re self contained, the only thing I have to touch is a gas pump, and I’ll have gloves and sanitizing gel for that so we feel pretty safe going down.”
The Kers, and one other man whose RV was also being driven south, flew in a chartered flight operated by San Juan airlines to cross the border. They are all in the same group and since the airline can transport pets, both family dogs were allowed in for the ride.
“These people are going to travel regardless,” said McElroy, “and we’re not transporting the people, we’re transporting their vehicles.”
He explained they are getting almost 50 requests a day for this service, and have made an agreement with San Juan airlines to transport their customers. The airline flies to Boundary Bar Airport to pick up customers, the issue right now is the customs office was closed at that airport near the beginning of the pandemic. So pilots have to land at Abbotsford International airport first, before continuing on.
The border restrictions have been extended until at least Dec. 21.