WestJet (The Canadian Press)

Air Canada, WestJet to drop physical distancing policies as air travel ticks up

Air Canada and WestJet conduct pre-boarding temperature checks and require masks on board

The country’s two largest airlines are ending their on-board seat distancing policies starting July 1, raising health concerns amid a pandemic that has devastated the travel industry.

Air Canada has blocked the sale of adjacent seats in economy class, and WestJet has done the same throughout the entire plane, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The carriers said Friday they will revert to health recommendations from the United Nation’s aviation agency and the International International Air Transport Association (IATA) trade group.

American Airlines also announced Friday that it will start booking flights to full capacity starting next Wednesday.

IATA called last month for an end to in-flight physical distancing rules, proposing a range of measures including some that run counter to federal government policies.

Transport Canada listed physical distancing among the “key points” in preventing the spread of the virus as part of a guide issued to the aviation industry in April.

“Operators should develop guidance for spacing passengers aboard aircraft when possible to optimize social distancing,” the document states.

Some health experts have highlighted the risks of spreading COVID in crowded airports and packed cabins.

“Once it’s in the cabin, it’s difficult to stop air moving around,” said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health.

However Joseph Allen, director of the Harvard public health school’s Healthy Buildings program, said the HEPA air filters used on most planes effectively control airborne bacteria and viruses.

In line with federal directives, Air Canada and WestJet conduct pre-boarding temperature checks and require masks on board. They have also implemented enhanced aircraft cleaning and scaled back their in-flight service in late March, cutting out hot drinks, hot meals and fresh food.

“The new measures will continue to build on the recommendations of ICAO (the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization) and others that a multi-layered strategy to COVID-19 safety is most effective,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.

WestJet said its online booking will return to normal on Wednesday.

“Moving forward, our cabin crew are able to assist should there be space to accommodate and we encourage guests to discuss seating arrangements with them once onboard,” said spokeswoman Morgan Bell.

Canadians are beginning to brave air travel again as confinement measures lift, though Manitoba and the Maritimes still have strong restrictions on interprovincial travel in place while other provinces discourage it.

Swoop, a budget airline owned by WestJet, added eight weekly flights in June with 12 more coming in July after the carrier cut capacity to a single line of flight per day — Halifax-Hamilton-Edmonton-Abbotsford and back.

“We’re in this minus 95 per cent mode right now,” Swoop president Charles Duncan said in an interview. “It doesn’t get much worse than this.”

Hope is on the horizon, however.

“At the height of it, it was common to have under 20 people on a plane. But from Vancouver just now I brought in 65. Earlier in the day from Edmonton to Vancouver we had over 100,” said WestJet flight attendant Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE Local 4070.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air CanadaCoronavirusWestJet

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mugshots Cafe: renovated and reopened

The Fernie-favourite once again has its doors open to the public

Pick all your apples and save the bears

As summer ends, bears become more active looking for food

Citing stability, B.C. Premier calls snap election for Oct. 24

John Horgan meets with Lieutenant Governor to request vote

B.C. Premier announces fall election

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka reacts to election announcement

Interior Health reports three additional COVID-19 cases in region

The number of cases in the region since the beginning of the pandemic are now at 492

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Four more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 31 active cases in isolation in the health region

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Totem pole considered cultural appropriation removed from Nelson’s Hume School

The pole had also become rotted and was seen as dangerous to students

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

‘It’s a boy’: Southern Resident killer whale calf born to J Pod is healthy, researchers say

J35 had previously done a ‘Tour of Grief,’ carrying her dead calf for 17 days

Most Read