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

Chilliwack loses the Keith Wilson Waver as Ron Hupper passes away

Hupper brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of people who traveled along Keith Wilson Road

Classic cars make a stop in Chilliwack during Brogan’s Ride Against Cancer

With the weather cooperating, more classics than expected hit the road for the fundraiser

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

PHOTOS: Cat owners in Chilliwack celebrate National Kitten Day

Chilliwack Progress readers share photos of their favourite felines on National Kitten Day

Child falls down Bridal Veil Falls near Chilliwack, crews on scene

An 11-year-old boy fell over the falls about 25 to 30 feet and has suffered a head injury

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Woman sexually assaulted, robbed near Surrey SkyTrain station: RCMP

Police say the incident happened July 10, just after 11 p.m. near King George SkyTrain station

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Once-in-a-lifetime comet photographed soaring over Abbotsford

Photographer Randy Small captures Comet NEOWISE in early-morning sky

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

Most Read