VANCOUVER -- Megan Richards had hoped to make the trek from Brussels, Belgium, back to Victoria to see her 97 year-old mother last February. She put the trip off multiple times over the course of 2020.

Finally, Richards said, her mother needed help, and waiting was no longer an option.

“If I could have delayed any further, I would have,” she said. 

On Monday she landed at YVR on a flight from Frankfurt which she said was “maybe 10 per cent full” and became one of the first to experience Canada’s new three-day mandatory hotel quarantine program for non-essential travellers.

She says getting the COVID-19 test upon landing in the International Arrivals hall was virtually seamless and she’d had another COVID-19 test in Belgium less than 72 hours before her flight, as Canada also requires. 

The trouble, Richards said, was with booking the quarantine hotel which couldn’t be done online or directly with the hotel, but rather through a number on the Health Canada website.

“What is absolutely infuriating, and half the people on the plane had the problem, it’s impossible to make the hotel reservation,” she said.

Richards said the international access number hung up on her multiple times and when her brother in Toronto called the toll free North American number on her behalf, his wait time was five hours.

She said at the time, the options where the Fairmont Vancouver Airport and the Westin Wall Centre.

“My brother got the cheapest one, which is the Fairmont not the Westin and that’s $560 a night,” Richards said.

“What is it for, I can’t eat that much food in 2 months?” she quipped and added the cost of the three-day hotel stay was twice the cost of her airline ticket.

A spokesperson for Health Canada told CTV News phone wait times were improving, and the average wait time to talk to an American Express travel agent to book a quarantine room was down to two hours.

It turns out, Health Canada said, some travelers had been calling the line for informational purposes, while others were calling to reserve rooms as far away as April.

“Travellers should only call the booking number if their flight to Canada is scheduled within the next 48 hours and they are ready to reserve and pay for their accommodation,” wrote spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau.

Booking and list of government-authorized hotels

Richards says when she gets a negative test result back from her test at YVR and can end the hotel stay she never wanted, she plans to quarantine in a friend’s basement for the remainder of the two weeks.

She’ll take another test supplied to her in a blue box upon landing around day 10, and if all goes well, she’ll see her mother around day 14.

“I can’t leave her. Who knows when we’ll be able to come again,” Richards said.