Air passenger Karen Kabiri is shown at Pierre Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Monday, June 29, 2020. One day before Canada’s two largest airlines end so-called seat distancing, travellers have mixed feelings about stepping on board an aircraft in the age of COVID-19. Starting on Canada Day, Air Canada and WestJet will resume the sale of adjacent seats, which they had largely blocked to help prevent viral spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Reynolds

‘A little bit scary for everybody’: Air passengers wary as new rules take effect

Starting on Canada Day, Air Canada and WestJet will resume the sale of adjacent seats

One day before Canada’s two largest airlines end so-called seat distancing, travellers have mixed feelings about stepping on board an aircraft in the age of COVID-19.

Starting on Canada Day, Air Canada and WestJet will resume the sale of adjacent seats, which they had largely blocked to help prevent viral spread.

Canada’s top public health officer has expressed reservations about the practice, though it is permitted under federal transportation rules.

“We really feel it is important to avoid the close physical contact as much as possible,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday. “And if not, wear the medical mask”

Masks have been mandatory on board flights since April 20.

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

Even so, “there are some difficult decisions for travellers, for sure,” Tam added, saying individuals should assess their own risk levels and need to fly.

Karen Kabiri took his first flight in five years Monday after learning his mother had died in Iran the day before — just 20 days after his father.

“It’s very, very hard for us. That’s why I’m going there right now, to help my sister,” Kabiri said.

The 44-year-old piano teacher from Toronto, who stopped over in Montreal before continuing on to Tehran to help with funeral arrangements, said he had concerns about entering a packed cabin.

“It’s a little bit scary for everybody. You can see many people are affected by COVID-19,” he said. “It’s very hard for everybody in these situations to travel. But sometimes an emergency is happening.

Claire Parois and her five-year-old daughter climbed aboard a flight Monday to her home country of France to join her parents after receiving approval to continue telecommuting until late August.

“We decided to spend the rest of the summer at my parents’ house where I don’t have to do the full-time parenting and full-time working at the same time, which I’ve been doing in the past 15 or 16 weeks,” said Parois, who works for the United Nations in Montreal. ”It’s been really, really, really challenging.”

“My main concern would be to get infected and then infect my parents. Otherwise I’m not too worried,” she said.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 12 new COVID-19 cases as officials urge caution for Canada Day

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 sardine-tin cabins.

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

However Joseph Allen, director of the Harvard public health school’s Healthy Buildings program, has 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 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 civil aviation agency) and others that a multi-layered strategy to COVID-19 safety is most effective,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email this week.

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 TravelCoronavirus

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

Just Posted

Who is or may be running in Stikine in the provincial election

Cullen nomination sparks controversy over NDP equity policy

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

John Horgan meets with Lieutenant Governor to request vote

Witset releases COVID-19 strategy following three confirmed cases

Plan implements strict measures to contain spread of the virus

Meet the 10-year-old girl who grew a pineapple in northern B.C.

Emily Atkins discovers it takes a lot of patience to grow tropical fruit in a temperate climate

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

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

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Most Read