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Some Canadians set to return from Mexico's Mazatlan area as airports reopen

A passenger waits in an empty terminal at the airport while flights are suspended due to drug cartel-related violence in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Mexico on January 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Martin Urista

Some Canadian tourists in Mexico's Sinaloa state finally began their delayed journey home on Saturday after a wave of violence erupted in the region, shuttering airports and prompting an advisory to shelter in place. 

Two airports in the northwestern area of Mexico have reopened, with international flights scheduled on Saturday from Mazatlan to cities in Western Canada including Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Travellers checking out of beachfront hotels in the area described a chaotic scene of packed elevators and busy lobbies as guests awaited airport shuttles and flights home.  

Some Canadian tourists in the area were barricaded in their hotels for several days after the arrest of a major alleged drug cartel leader led to violence in the region. 

The Canadian government issued a shelter-in-place advisory on Thursday, saying the widespread violence included burning cars, exchanges of fire and threats to essential infrastructure, including airports.

The Canadian government continues to recommend avoiding non-essential travel across the Sinaloa state, except within the city of Mazatlan. 

Mixed messages emerged from people on the ground in the region on Saturday, creating some uncertainty about the current state of affairs.

Some described the area as "back to normal," while others suggested an atmosphere of uneasiness persisted. 

Dominique Carole Maraj, a Canadian from Vancouver who lives in Mazatlan about six months a year, said all commercial and government services were back up and running with roadways reopened and transit restored. 

Others suggested on social media that while conditions were largely back to normal in the city, a significant armed presence continued in other parts of the state. 

And while Canadian airlines resumed flights out of the Mazatlan airport on Saturday, U.S. airlines once again canceled flights for the day.

Canadian air carriers WestJet , Swoop and Sunwing all had flights scheduled to depart on Saturday, but American Airlines and United flights appeared to remain cancelled.  

Swoop said the Mazatlan airport has reopened without disruption.

"An elevated police/military presence remains in the region to further ensure the safety and security of the public," the airline said in an emailed statement on Saturday. 

"Service to other Swoop destinations across Mexico remains unaffected by this situation, though crew and travellers may see additional law enforcement present in various other areas out of caution."

Swoop added that it continues to advise everyone in the region to follow all instructions provided by local authorities.

WestJet said its operations to Mazatlan resumed Saturday, while service to the rest of its destinations across Mexico remain unaffected.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will make operational changes in the name of safety as necessary," the airline said in an email.  

WestJet noted that flexible change and cancellation policies remain in effect for customers with reservations affected by the latest travel advisory. 

Air Canada said none of its destinations in Mexico were affected by the unrest but the airline is "watching the situation closely."

Sunwing did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2023.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press