Passengers near Manitoba COVID-19 case on June flights now told to self-isolate

News from CBC News – link to story

No new cases of COVID-19 announced in Manitoba on Thursday; province has 16 active cases

Aidan Geary · CBC News · Posted: Jul 02, 2020

COVID-19 samples at the B.C Centre for Disease Control lab in this April file photo. No new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Manitoba on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some passengers on Air Canada flights last month are now being advised to self-isolate because they are considered close contacts of a COVID-19 case identified earlier this week in Manitoba, the province said Thursday.

No new cases of COVID-19 in the province were announced on Thursday, with a total of 16 active cases in the province.

The daily news release did, however, update a warning from earlier this week about a passenger who travelled by plane three times in June and tested positive for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the province advised passengers on the flights to simply self-monitor for symptoms. However, on Thursday, that advice was updated to instruct passengers in affected rows to self-isolate for 14 days following the flight.

The province’s advisory includes:

  • June 18: Air Canada flight AC 295, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, rows 19-25.
  • June 21: Air Canada flight AC 122 from Vancouver to Toronto, rows not yet determined.
  • June 23: Air Canada flight AC 259, from Toronto to Winnipeg, rows 24 to 30.

People who were on those flights and in those rows are considered close contacts of the case, the province said. They are advised to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of the flight and monitor for symptoms.

If you were on the flight but not in the affected rows, you should self-monitor for symptoms, the province said.

In the past week, 10 new cases of COVID-19 have been announced in Manitoba. Eight of them were in the Winnipeg health region, according to provincial data, and the remaining two were in the Southern Health region.

At least four of the cases were linked to the trucking industry.

As of Thursday, 302 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Manitoba, the province said Thursday.

A total of 325 confirmed or probable cases have been identified in the province since the pandemic began, and seven Manitobans have died.

No one is currently in hospital or in intensive care for COVID-19, the province said.

On Wednesday, 512 tests were completed, with a further 503 tests on Tuesday. That brings Manitoba’s total to 64,329 tests since early February.

3 flights to Vancouver International Airport possibly exposed to COVID-19

News from CTV News – link to story

Regan Hasegawa, Multi-skilled Journalist, CTV News Vancouver | July 2, 2020

YVR

Planes are seen on the tarmac at YVR in this photo from April 2019. (Gary Barndt / CTV News Vancouver)

VANCOUVER — Health officials are warning passengers on three flights that recently landed at Vancouver International Airport YVR to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is not sharing which seats on the planes were affected. As a result, everyone who was on the flights is asked to self-isolate for two weeks from the day they landed in Vancouver.

These are the affected flights:

  •  Air Canada flight 217 from Saskatoon on June 16.
  •  Air Canada flight 557 from Los Angeles on June 18.
  •  Flair Airlines flight 8102 from Toronto on June 21.

Travellers on the flights won’t be contacted directly, as health officials stopped that practice back in March.

All airline passengers are encouraged to check the BCCDC website regularly for two weeks after they arrive back in B.C. to ensure their flight has not been exposed to the virus.  

Air Canada Discontinues Service on 30 Domestic Regional Routes and Closes Eight Stations in Canada

From Air Canada

Regional flying rationalized due to COVID-19 and government travel restrictions, part of airline’s Cost Reduction Program to reduce cash burn

MONTREAL, June 30, 2020  /CNW Telbec/ – Air Canada said today that it is indefinitely suspending service on 30 domestic regional routes and closing eight stations at regional airports in Canada. 

These structural changes to Air Canada’s domestic regional network are being made as a result of continuing weak demand for both business and leisure travel due to COVID-19 and provincial and federal government-imposed travel restrictions and border closures, which are diminishing prospects for a near-to-mid-term recovery.

As the company has previously reported, Air Canada expects the industry’s recovery will take a minimum of three years. As a consequence, other changes to its network and schedule, as well as further service suspensions, will be considered over the coming weeks as the airline takes steps to decisively reduce its overall cost structure and cash burn rate.

A full list of route suspensions and station closures is below.

As a result of COVID-19, Air Canada reported a net loss of $1.05 billion in the first quarter of 2020, including a net cash-burn in March of $688 million. The carrier has undertaken a range of structural changes including significant cost savings and liquidity measures, of which today’s announced service suspensions form part. Other measures include:

  • A workforce reduction of approximately 20,000 employees, representing more than 50 per cent of its staff, achieved through layoffs, severances, early retirements and special leaves;
  • A company-wide Cost Reduction and Capital Deferral Program, that has to date identified around $1.1 billion in savings;
  • A reduction of its system-wide capacity by approximately 85 per cent in the second quarter compared to last year’s second quarter and an expected third quarter capacity reduction of at least 75% from the third quarter of 2019;
  • The permanent removal of 79 aircraft from its mainline and Rouge fleets;
  • And raising approximatively $5.5 billion in liquidity since March 13, 2020, through a series of debt, aircraft and equity financings.

Further initiatives are being considered.

Route Suspensions

The following routes will be suspended indefinitely as per applicable regulatory notice requirements. Affected customers will be contacted by Air Canada and offered options, including alternative routings where available.

Maritimes/Newfoundland and Labrador:

  • Deer Lake-Goose Bay;
  • Deer Lake-St. John’s;
  • Fredericton-Halifax;
  • Fredericton-Ottawa;
  • Moncton-Halifax;
  • Saint John-Halifax;
  • Charlottetown-Halifax;
  • Moncton-Ottawa;
  • Gander-Goose Bay;
  • Gander-St. John’s;
  • Bathurst-Montreal;
  • Wabush-Goose Bay;
  • Wabush-Sept-Iles;
  • Goose Bay-St. John’s.

Quebec/Ontario:

  • Baie Comeau-Montreal;
  • Baie Comeau-Mont Joli;
  • Gaspé-Iles de la Madeleine;
  • Gaspé-Quebec City;
  • Sept-Iles-Quebec City;
  • Val d’Or-Montreal;
  • Mont Joli-Montreal;
  • Rouyn-Noranda-Val d’Or;
  • Kingston-Toronto;
  • London-Ottawa;
  • North Bay-Toronto
  • Windsor-Montreal

Western Canada: 

  • Regina-Winnipeg;
  • Regina-Saskatoon;
  • Regina-Ottawa;
  • Saskatoon-Ottawa.

Station Closures

The following are the Regional Airports where Air Canada is closing its stations:

  • Bathurst (New Brunswick)
  • Wabush (Newfoundland and Labrador)
  • Gaspé (Quebec)
  • Baie Comeau (Quebec)
  • Mont Joli (Quebec)
  • Val d’Or (Quebec)
  • Kingston (Ontario)
  • North Bay (Ontario)

279 N.B. call centre, airport staff among WestJet layoffs

News from CBC News – link to story

Company announced Wednesday it had permanently laid off 3,333 employees

CBC News · Posted: Jun 25, 2020

WestJet announced Wednesday it was permanently laying off 3,333 workers, 279 of which are based in New Brunswick. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More than 270 WestJet employees in New Brunswick were let go as part of the mass layoffs the Canadian airliner announced Wednesday.

The company announced it laid off 3,333 employees permanently, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions as the reason for the cuts. 

Of the 279 affected New Brunswick workers, 253 are in Moncton, where the company shut down its call centre.

In a statement to CBC News, WestJet confirmed that all of its call centres will be consolidated in the company’s home in Calgary. Other centres in Halifax and Vancouver are now closed, too. 

Fifteen WestJet employees at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport and 11 staff at the Fredericton International Airport have also lost their jobs.

However, the closures have not impacted WestJet flights at either airport.

In a video issued by WestJet on Wednesday, CEO Ed Sims said all domestic airport operations will be contracted out, except Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto. 

“We will seek to find a suitable partner who can provide high airport service levels through their commitment to hire as many of our affected WestJetters as possible,” Sims said in the video.

The company had 14,000 staff before pandemic border closures and travel restrictions grounded two-thirds of its fleet. Only 4,500 employees are currently on the payroll, and the company says it’s looking to bring back 5,500 employees temporarily laid off.

Year-over-year international passenger numbers have plummeted to a fraction of pre-pandemic travel, leading airlines to lay off thousands of employees.

With files from Gary Moore

Passenger Arrested for Refusing to Wear Face Mask, Lights Cigarette Instead

From CTV News

Guest smoking, not wearing mask, forces WestJet flight to land in Winnipeg on weekend

News from CTV News – link to story and video

Josh Crabb Reporter/ Video journalist | Thursday, June 18, 2020

WINNIPEG — The James Richardson International Airport welcomed an unexpected flight this past weekend.

The RCMP said officers were called Sunday afternoon around 2:30 when a WestJet flight travelling from Vancouver to Toronto was forced to land in Winnipeg due to an “unruly” passenger.

“They were advised this male had lit up a cigarette on board and was also not listening to any of the directions from the flight crew which included to don his personal safety mask as well,” said Cpl. Julie Courchaine of the Manitoba RCMP.

Police say a 60-year-old man from Surrey B.C., Balvir Singh, was arrested and taken into custody. He’s been charged with several offences — including failing to comply with the flight crew’s instructions to wear a face mask.

According to Transport Canada, it’s the first time someone has been charged with that offence which carries a maximum fine of $5,000.

The rule falls under an interim order put in place by Transport Canada because of COVID-19.

A directive issued April 20 by Transport Canada requires all passengers to wear a non-medical face mask or covering during a flight.

“In support of the directive, it is mandatory for guests to wear protective face coverings throughout their travel journey, including at the airport and while in flight,” reads a portion of the WestJet statement. “In addition and per the directive, travellers are required to show that they have a suitable face-covering prior to boarding a WestJet flight.”

Inside the airport, signs at security checkpoints highlight the face mask rules. Traveller Waffa Assaf came prepared with masks for her flight and has no problem with wearing one.

“It’s good to wear it and prevent yourself and others from getting sick,” she said.

The man in the WestJet incident has also been charged with public mischief over $5,000 and two charges under Canadian Aviation Security regulations for smoking on board and failing to comply with the flight crew’s instructions.

None of the charges have been tested in court.

His lawyer Matt Gould says there was a language barrier.

“In terms of what an individual was told or how that was interpreted and what was made from that, it’s difficult to come to any useful conclusion at this time,” he said. “Certainly everyone’s innocent until proven guilty.”

While the allegations also involve smoking on a plane, Gould says the incident highlights how serious the consequences can be if someone refuses to wear a mask – starting with steep fines and harsher penalties if a plane is forced to make an unplanned stop.

“If the issue with respect to wearing a face mask exacerbates the situation or grows into something that causes a real problem on a flight, that can result in criminal charges,” he said.

WestJet says it apologized to other passengers for the delay before refueling and departing for Toronto. 

Toronto Pearson launches Healthy Airport program featuring innovative partnership with BlueDot

From Greater Toronto Airports Authority

TORONTO, June 23, 2020 /CNW/ – The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates and maintains Toronto Pearson, today launched its “Healthy Airport” commitment, a comprehensive program that outlines the steps the airport and its partners are taking to be ready for the new realities of air travel, and to lead the aviation industry in advancing the future of healthy travel corridors.  Today’s announcement also includes a strategic partnership with BlueDot, a leader in advanced data analytics and technologies to predict and monitor infectious disease risks.

Autonomous Cleaner (CNW Group/Greater Toronto Airports Authority)
Autonomous Cleaner (CNW Group/Greater Toronto Airports Authority)

Toronto Pearson’s Healthy Airport commitment and health measures are aligned with the global aviation measures established by the International Civil Aviation Authority, International Air Transport Association, and Transport Canada’s framework for addressing COVID-19 and the recovery of the aviation sector. 

Click here for a video and more photos

“Toronto Pearson is an international leader in the aviation sector, having set the standard for exceptional passenger service among large North American airports for three years in a row,” said Deborah Flint, President and CEO of the GTAA.  “As government restrictions on air travel begin to be lifted and flights increase, Toronto Pearson is ready, and we are intent on exceeding international standards.  Everyone who works at Toronto Pearson is dedicated to playing a leadership role in fulfilling the health protection measures and adapting quickly to changes and future standards. We are dedicated each day to providing the pathway for Canadians who are dreaming of the day they can travel again.”

Passengers will experience the airport’s five point Healthy Airport commitment, which includes the highest standards for cleaning and hygiene, clear communications and the introduction of innovative technology advancements, including touchless check-in, a disinfection corridor for airport workers, facility monitoring for congestion, autonomous floor cleaning machines and air quality monitors.  Additionally, the GTAA has partnered with BlueDot to monitor and manage risk from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The Canadian technology company’s world-leading insights platform will power the GTAA’s commitment to preparedness and resilience.

In addition to measures introduced by the GTAA on June 1 – mandatory masks, limited access to airport facilities, continued enhanced cleaning and hygiene and increased signage for physical distancing – today’s Healthy Airport announcement includes the following commitment to passengers and airport workers:

  • We commit to making passenger and employee health our top priority.
  • We commit to working with our partners to set strong, consistent standards for passenger and airport worker health.
  • We will deploy multi-layered tools and adjust quickly to changes and current intelligence.
  • We will ensure our approach is best in class and aligned with international aviation standards.
  • We will explore all innovative and technologically advanced solutions for ensuring the safety of our passengers and employees.

Many of the 400-plus organizations operating out of Toronto Pearson—including air carriers and transit agencies—are implementing health and cleaning measures, and are working with the GTAA to ensure their employees comply with the airport’s new commitment, as well as with requirements established by federal, provincial and municipal health authorities. In addition to conducting airport-wide workforce education sessions, the GTAA has worked with public health officials and a growing number of airport employers to develop a voluntary COVID-19 case log.  Moreover, the GTAA is working with Wipro, a global technology leader, to conduct a pilot of wearable tracing and physical distancing technology for airport workers. 

Passenger confidence in Canada’s travel industry is of the utmost importance, and the Toronto Pearson workforce is dedicated to building public trust that the aviation sector takes health issues and their well-being seriously.

As regional and national rules and restrictions ease in the coming weeks and months, Toronto Pearson employers will continue to work with the Government of Canada to assess risk and to encourage a logical and reasonable return of domestic and international travels.

Quotes:

“Toronto Pearson’s ‘Healthy Airport’ Initiative demonstrates leadership and a commitment of the airport and its partners to ensure the health and safety of employees and visitors to the airport during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Lawrence Loh, Interim Medical Officer of Health, Region of Peel.

“The global airport industry is facing unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19. As Toronto Pearson airport is preparing for the ‘new normal’, Wipro, through our deep domain expertise and experience in implementing digital innovations and technologies, is assisting the airport in bringing the Healthy Airport concept to life. This is enabled through a bouquet of contactless solutions and digital technologies for enhancing the passengers’ safety and experience. Working together with the airport stakeholders we strive to safeguard the health and safety of passengers and airport staff.”  Sahadev Singh, Vice President & Global Head, Wipro Limited.

“Smarter airports deliver a safer experience for travellers. And safer travellers contribute to a healthier world. BlueDot is incredibly proud to partner with the GTAA to use advanced data analytics and digital technologies to stay a step ahead of global infectious disease risks.” Dr. Kamran Khan, founder and CEO of BlueDot and practicing infectious disease physician.

“Airport workers want to see the return of travel. The future of our airport community will be shaped by our collective response to this unprecedented crisis. The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council has worked closely with the GTAA to develop and re-invest in industry leading health and safety standards. We remain committed to making passenger and workers’ health our top priority while ensuring these changes benefit all who fly through and work at our Airport. We look forward to welcoming travellers back into Toronto Pearson, a model for healthy airports everywhere.” Steven Tufts, Spokesperson, Toronto Airport Workers’ Council.

Flights resume at Saint John Airport

News from CBC News – link to story

Flights resume at Saint John Airport

Saint John Airport officials are worried passengers from outside New Brunswick will be turned away by border patrols as Air Canada resumes flights from Montreal to the Port City.

One daily flight arrived at the Saint John Airport shortly before 3:30 p.m. and was to depart at 4:30 p.m. Border patrol officers with the province are questioning travellers arriving at the airport. 

“Obviously, you have to have a legitimate reason … on why you’re coming into New Brunswick, and if those are met, than you should be OK to come in,” said Jacques Fournier, director of commercial development at the Saint John Airport. 

“If they’re not, there’s always a chance they could get turned away.” 

He said the plane is a 78-seat aircraft, which has been upgraded from the 50-seat commercial aircraft originally planned. 

An Air Canada flight from Montreal has arrived at the Saint John Airport on Monday afternoon. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

“Obviously, the demand is a little more than we thought.”

But Fournier said some seats won’t be used, so passengers can keep their distance from each other on the plane.

“I would have to say the aircraft will be pretty busy today.”

Flights at all three of New Brunswick’s largest airports have been reduced since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and service in Saint John was suspended altogether.

Saint John Airport staff have also taken steps to make sure passengers can physically distance themselves from one another, including when they’re lining up to get on a plane.

People permitted to come into the province are still required to self-isolate for two weeks, with the exception of New Brunswick residents working who have been working outside the province.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said there are two peace officers and two screeners at each airport during hours of operation.

“Some people still need to travel and want to travel,” said Fournier. “I believe we will still see people with cottages here in New Brunswick coming in.”

Additional flights to Toronto and Montreal from Saint John will start on July 1.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen commercial traffic coming back into the Saint John Airport,” Fournier said. “So it is very exciting.”

More flights added to Moncton offerings

Toronto and Montreal flights that were previously suspended to and from the Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport, also resumed Monday. They include one daily flight to Toronto and Montreal until June 30.

In July, flights to each city will operate twice a day, but exceptions could apply, said Julie Pondant, a spokesperson for the airport.  

Halifax and Ottawa flights are suspended until Sept. 7.

WestJet currently operates three days a week to Toronto from the Moncton airport.

Swoop Airlines has postponed service to the Moncton airport. 

The Fredericton International Airport has two daily Air Canada flights to Montreal and three WestJet flights per week to Toronto. 

 “The airport has been open continuously, with both Air Canada and WestJet continuing to serve YFC, although on a reduced schedule,” said Kate O’Rourke, a spokesperson for the Fredericton International Airport. 

Porter and Sunwing have both suspended operations until the end of July at New Brunswick airports.

Smokes on a plane: Surrey, BC man arrested after lighting cigarette mid-flight, forcing landing in Winnipeg

News from City News 1130 – link to story

BY HANA MAE NASSAR Posted Jun 18, 2020

FILE: A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

WINNIPEG (NEWS 1130) – A man from Surrey has been arrested and charged after he’s said to have refused to wear a face mask and lit a cigarette during a flight.

The 60-year-old’s actions forced the plane to divert to Winnipeg last Sunday. He was met by Winnipeg International Airport RCMP officers, who had been called to reports of an “unruly passenger.”

“The man was arrested without incident,” the RCMP says.

The plane he was on was flying from Vancouver to Toronto when it was forced to land.

The man has been charged with Mischief Over $5,000, smoking onboard an aircraft, and failing to comply with instructions from the flight crew.

WestJet releases July schedule to get Canadians exploring again

From WestJet, an Alberta Partnership

Airline continues to focus on significant safety and hygiene enhancements to ensure a safe travel journey

CALGARY, AB, June 15, 2020 /CNW/ – WestJet today released its updated July schedule, developed to allow Canadians the pleasure of summer travel while economically supporting communities across the country in safely reopening travel and domestic tourism. In addition, the airline has added flights to select U.S. markets.

To ensure guests can book with confidence, the airline maintains its stringent Safety Above All hygiene program and continues to provide flexibility in booking, change and cancellation policies.

“Today’s schedule reflects our commitment to orderly and safe travel while providing steps to allow Canadians to get out, explore, and take part in critical economic activities like staying in hotels, eating out, visiting tourist attractions or simply just travelling to see friends and family,” said Arved von zur Muehlen, WestJet Chief Commercial Officer. “Governments and Canadians from coast-to-coast are working together to lessen the impact of this pandemic and we are grateful that these efforts have put us in a position to add more options for travel this July.”

From July 5 through August 4, 2020, WestJet will offer operations to 45 destinations including 39 in Canada, five in the U.S. and one in Mexico an increase of approximately 102 per cent more flights from June, but down 76 per cent from July 2019.

Continued von zur Muehlen, “As we emerge from the pandemic, health vigilance must be balanced with the gradual reopening of our economy. WestJet has done our part and spent millions of dollars to ensure the safety and well-being of our guests and our people. We’re ready to get Canadians flying.”

On March 22, WestJet suspended its international and transborder operations. The airline’s schedule now contains flights to key transborder and international destinations including Los Angeles (LAX), Atlanta (ATL) and Las Vegas (LAS).

“Jurisdictions around the world are opening, allowing citizens to begin flying once again which is kickstarting their economies for recovery. We’ve heard from the communities we serve and look forward to having Canadians safely participate and stimulate domestic tourism this summer,” stated von zur Muehlen.

At this time, the airline is planning on operating the following domestic routes and frequencies from July 5 – August 4.

Continue reading

Longer lines, higher fares and no booze: Flying is about to get more aggravating

News from The Star – link to story

People leave the airport after arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Monday, March 16, 2020. Flying is about to get even more tedious. Temperature checks. Bigger lines. Fewer meals. No alcohol. And ultimately, higher prices.

By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press, Sun., June 14, 2020

Temperature checks. Bigger lines. Fewer meals. No alcohol. And ultimately, higher prices.

Air travel — often a headache before the COVID-19 pandemic — is set to become even more uncomfortable, experts say, as increased in-flight personal space is offset by longer waits, higher airfares and more sterile environments.

Carriers, whose fleets have largely been grounded since mid-March amid global travel restrictions and extremely low demand for travel, now face the dilemma of generating enough revenue to stay afloat while keeping their passengers and employees safe.

In an effort to maintain physical distancing, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. currently block the sale of immediately adjacent seats in economy class and throughout the entire plane, respectively.

Air Canada passengers currently receive complimentary kits that include hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes, gloves, a water bottle and — in line with federal rules as of June 4 — face masks.

To minimize customer-employee contact, pillows, blankets and alcohol are unavailable, with drink service limited to bottled water. Only travellers on international flights or in business class on journeys over two hours are offered boxed meals — no multi-course meals on the menu, even for “elite” flyers.

Infrared temperature checks will soon be required for all international passengers as well as those flying within Canada, with screening stations to be set up at 15 airports by September, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday.

Travellers with an elevated temperature — 37.5 C in the case of Air Canada, which already conducts screenings — will be unable to board the flight, and barred from flying for at least 14 days.

Just how effective the checks are at virus detection remains up in the air.

“Thermography is only good for people who have the beginnings of a fever, or are somewhere along with a fever,” said Tim Sly, epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health. “But we now know this virus is a stealth virus.”

A recent study at Imperial College London found that the technique would not detect a heightened temperature in about half of those with the virus.

Passengers, flight crew and airport workers must wear non-medical marks or face coverings at all times, with exceptions for eating that include dining and children under the age of two, according to Transport Canada.

Passengers seated in the back now typically board first and those in the front board last to reduce the risk of transmission.

Airports in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary are also encouraging a “touch-free” baggage check where travellers check in remotely, print bag tags at an airport kiosk and drop off luggage at a designated spot.

Physical distancing rules at busy terminals could shrink capacity and cause congestion for arrivals and departures, making it harder for carriers to recoup their recent losses. Meanwhile, enhanced aircraft cleaning procedures will likely mean more time between flights, which combined with fewer passengers could badly dent their bottom lines.

“Cleaning up, safety procedures — that will delay flights. And it will have some level of expenditures,” said Jacques Roy, a professor of transport management at HEC Montreal business school.

“But the most important thing would be to remove the middle seat. That would reduce capacity by one-third. To compensate you have to increase prices.”

Jim Scott, CEO of ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines, acknowledged that higher fares are likely on the horizon, though not immediately as carriers try to encourage travellers with lower prices.

“If you want that middle seat empty, probably you’re going to have to pay more,” he said.

In North America, physical distancing on board would push the average fare up by 43 per cent to US$289 from US$202 in 2019 just for airlines to break even, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset that with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end,” industry group director general Alexandre de Juniac said last month.

Higher ancillary charges — baggage fees, seating upgrades and other options — also present a potential path to higher revenues down the road, increasing a trend in place before the pandemic, said Jay Sorensen, who heads airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany.

While some adjustments may be easier to adapt to — ubiquitous disinfectant dispensers and plastic barriers in terminals, for example — others may be a little more difficult to accept.

Budget carrier Ryanair will require customers to make a special request to use the washroom to avoid what IATA calls a “congregation of passengers” in the cabin.

Nonetheless, the trade group, which counts Air Canada and WestJet among its almost 300 members, raised eyebrows last month when it announced that passenger face coverings have eliminated the need for physical distancing on board — washroom queues aside — and that aircraft seats serve as a barrier to viral transmission.

Airlines may be under pressure to make middle seats available soon as passenger volumes, which have fallen by more than 95 per cent year over year at Canadian carriers, start to rise again. WestJet said in an email it will reassess its no-middle-seat policy at the end of the month, while an Air Canada spokesman said that “it is not possible to speculate on the future possibilities.”

For now, most regulators have not acted on IATA’s push for middle seat occupancy, and airlines may find they need to entice passengers with rigorous health and hygiene protocols rather than filling each flight to capacity, said Dr. Paul Pottinger, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

“The question, I think, is not one of viruses and infection, it’s one of economics. Is that risk reduction small enough that people would be willing to pay a price in terms of the premium on their ticket?” he asked.

Ultimately, vigilance in physical distancing and sanitization are critical to containing coronavirus spread, no matter how it alters Canadians’ flying experience, Pottinger said.

“It is a layer of protection that I envision for all of us regardless of whether you are squeezed into an aluminum tube or walking down the street. The virus doesn’t care,” he said.

“We just need to give each other a little more personal space. Doing it at the airport and on board? It’s a real challenge.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2020.