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

Decision on judicial review of Cowichan Motorsport decision could take months

VIMC said it was assured by North Cowichan that expansion would be allowed

South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club goes retro

Wood Racket Tournament features period uniforms

Tiny homes could help housing issues in North Cowichan, says housing official

John Horn says homeless need shelter with winter coming

Editorial: Tiny houses should be an option in Cowichan

We are missing the boat by not enabling the building of tiny houses.

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

B.C.’s 1st mental health and addictions minister won’t be seeking re-election

MLA Judy Darcy is the fifth cabinet minister not intending to run in the next election

Vancouver’s shuttered aquarium searching for financial solution amid pandemic

The aquarium needs about $1 million a month to cover its costs

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

Most Read