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

Kimberley Health Care Auxiliary reopens thrift shops

Kimberley and Marysville locations now open

Birthday wishes come true as Kimberley girl reunited with her cat

Cat was missing for a month, reunited with owners because SPCA was able to trace microchip

Gray Creek Pass now open

The Gray Creek Pass is now open again, after a new bridge… Continue reading

Cranbrook RCMP looking for vehicle, driver involved in hit and run

RCMP are looking for the owner of a white Toyota Corolla that fled the scene

From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

Tanker 489 is stationed in Castlegar this year, but in the 1960s it belonged to the L.A. Dodgers.

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

BREAKING: Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

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

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

Most Read