Air travel is about to go through its biggest transformation since 9/11 — and passengers will pay for it

News from the Vancouver Sun – link to story and videos

Gabriel Friedman | Publishing date:Jun 26, 2020 

All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur. REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR

Nearly two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks transformed airports, leading to security barriers where none had existed before, the coronavirus pandemic is once again upending air travel.

This time around, the focus is on health measures, and the use of technology that in theory could make the experience “touchless” and more automated, but could also lead to higher ticket prices.

Air travel is about to go through its biggest transformation since 9/11 — and passengers will pay for it

“We need faster, cleaner, better ways to get through the airport,” Robyn McVicker, vice president of operations and maintenance at Vancouver Airport Authority told the Financial Post. “It’s something that we believe is the future.”

Already, Vancouver airport and others are doubling down on touchless technology that allows passengers to print a baggage ticket and drop their bags off at a self-serve kiosk that eliminates the need to touch or interact with anyone at the airport.

She said her team is already working on a project called “Phoenix” that reimagines “every single process in the airport” using technology, whether that means waiting in line, waiting at the gate and even the need for paper tickets. In the future, McVicker thinks airports will begin using biometric facial scans, so that passengers can glide through the airport in less time, with less waiting.

“The industry has never been more aligned on how do we make things better than it is today,” said McVicker.

There is much at stake in figuring out how to bring air travel back. Airports across the country are already facing sharp declines in revenue. Even with widespread layoffs, some airports are looking to raise money by increasing the fees that passengers pay, or borrowing, just to support the costs of their overhead.

An empty check-in counter at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO

Nathan Janzen, a senior economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, said that aspects of the economy “that require people to congregate” will be the slowest to recover.

But he said airports form a crucial backbone to the economy, allowing people to travel to a region, facilitating investment in businesses and allowing a freer flow of goods.

“Those are the kinds of things that can be a structural impediment to a longer term to medium term recovery, if you don’t figure out a way to make them work,” Janzen said.

The drop in air travel has been dramatic. One day in mid-June, about 5,000 people arrived or departed on a flight out of the Vancouver International Airport — about 97 per cent less than the 75,000 people that would normally service the airport.

Across the country, other airports, big and small, are experiencing similar situations. In Calgary, for example, about 1,000 passengers were travelling on a day when normally there would be 24,500 passengers.

Toronto’s Pearson Airport reported a 97 per cent drop in passenger traffic in April.

At Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport, around 350 people travelled through compared to nearly 13,000 on average at this time in prior years.

“But that’s really good news,” said Barry Rempel, president and chief executive of Winnipeg Airports Authority, “because we had days, for example, the 6th of May, we had fewer than a hundred people boarding.”

Rempel is hopeful that as federal and provincial authorities relax social distancing guidelines, air travel will slowly pick up again, but he knows that regional airports such as the one in Winnipeg will likely trail airports that have a more international flight list.

In any case, no one is under any illusion that air travel will snap back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.

In March, the country’s airlines gradually suspended most or in some cases all of their flights as federal and provincial health authorities issued new rules to contain the spread of COVID-19, in a move that corresponded with tens of thousands of layoffs.

Toronto-based Porter Airlines stopped flying altogether and still has no plans to resume flights until July 29 at the earliest.

Montreal-based Air Transat has said it plans to resume flying on July 23 after a four-month hiatus.

Calgary-based Westjet has said it is only flying five per cent of its schedule, and is not releasing a schedule beyond Aug. 5.

Montreal-based Air Canada has reduced its flight schedule by 85 to 90 per cent. A The company says it’s hopeful that it will see a recovery, which would mean that its flight schedule would only be reduced by 75 per cent.

All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur.

Transport Canada also requires all passengers at least two years old to bring their own face mask and wear it throughout the duration of the flight.

Despite these measures, people aren’t travelling.

“The airport’s not a comfortable place these days,” said Rempel. “It’s a welcoming building, but it’s empty.”

Alberta Health Services staff meet airline passengers entering the International arrivals area at the Calgary International Airport where they are directed to a new COVID-19 screening area. JIM WELLS/POSTMEDIA

To coax people back into airports, he said staff are taking extra precautions — hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the building and the staff to passenger ratio is high enough that every single screen can be immediately cleaned after it’s used.

They have even installed a new technology that cleans the escalator handrail on a constant basis.

“Think of it as a bath that the handrail goes through every time it makes a circuit,” said Rempel. “That’s the kind of thing we’re doing.”

Still, Rempel said his revenues are currently about three per cent of normal. While the Winnipeg Airport Authority slashed capital spending plans from $175 million to $7 million, Rempel has also applied to raise the airportimprovement fee’ that every passenger pays as part of their ticket fare, from $25 to $38.

“If traffic comes back next year — it won’t, I believe — then we’ll be reducing that,” he said, adding that otherwise the increase should help sustain the airport through  2024 or 2025, by which time he expects air travel to resume to normal levels.

While the federal government has waived the lease payments that airports pay until December — which typically amount to between 11-12 per cent of total revenues,  according to several airport executives interviewed for this article — Rempel said it will not be enough to save his airport.

Reid Fiest, a spokesman for Calgary Airports Authority, said his company is hoping the federal waiver is extended for four or five years so airports can manage their debt.

“We’re doing a lot to try and make people feel comfortable and that it’s safe to travel,” said Fiest, adding he expects it could take three to five years, “but there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

The simple reality is no one knows when air travel will return.

“It’s the billion-dollar question,” said McVicker. “The reality is forecasting is a voodoo science right now.”

Self-isolation rules still apply to N.W.T, Nunavut residents travelling by air to Yukon

News from CBC News – link to story

Self-isolation is only waived for those that can come straight to Yukon through B.C.

Anna Desmarais · CBC News · Posted: Jul 02, 2020

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley at a COVID-19 press conference regarding the start of the territory’s Phase 2 recovery plan on July 1. (Government of Yukon)

Northerners travelling to Yukon via southern airports outside of British Columbia will still have to self-isolate upon arrival, according to Yukon Premier Sandy Silver.  

On July 1, premier Silver extended the Yukon-B.C. travel bubble to include those from the N.W.T and Nunavut — only if they travel from their territory to Yukon or through British Columbia. 

Data from Google Flights shows that all Air Canada flights from Yellowknife to Whitehorse will have layovers either in Edmonton or Calgary, Alta., on route to Vancouver. Flights from Iqaluit to Whitehorse often travel through Ottawa or Winnipeg to get to the territory. 

In those cases, Premier Silver said northern residents arriving by air with layovers in provinces like Ontario and Alberta will have to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. 

‘Making our decisions … not just on geography’

“We’re making our decisions not necessarily just on geography or ease of getting here but also epidemiology,” Silver told reporters.

“At this time, we … are opening ourselves as well, knowing full well that it’s pretty hard for someone to come directly from Nunavut into Yukon.”

The N.W.T announced a new travel bubble with Nunavut on June 12 as part of its Phase 2 reopening plans. The move struck down the self-isolation requirement for people travelling between the territories.

Yukon was initially excluded from the travel bubble because of its plans to loosen self-isolation requirements with British Columbia. 

N.W.T. residents are still required to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from Yukon. 

Premier recommends reserving charters 

Silver said the travel bubble would directly benefit residents of Fort McPherson, N.W.T. — the closest community to Yukon along the Dempster Highway.

Residents of Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., are also able to drive directly into Yukon via the Dempster.

Communities in the Dehcho, including Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte and Fort Simpson, N.W.T., would also be able to travel into Yukon through British Columbia without having to self-isolate. People looking to drive into B.C. through the N.W.T.’s Highway 7 will have to make an appointment to cross the border either on a Tuesday or Friday. 

But, Silver continued, travel to Yukon from other parts of the territories “isn’t impossible.” He recommended that people consider chartering flights if necessary, but reinforced the message that travel should still be limited into the territory. 

“You could charter from Inuvik or smaller communities and you’d be allowed to if you could come in,” Silver said. 

Anyone travelling to Yukon is asked to go to Yukon.ca to figure out if they meet the self-isolation requirements. 

No direct flights to Whitehorse until mid-August

Air North, Yukon’s main commercial airline, wrote on its website that its Whitehorse-Yellowknife-Ottawa route will be starting up again on Aug. 15. Once that flight is available, northerners could fly from Yellowknife to Whitehorse without having to self-isolate. 

Kelly Lewis, a spokesperson for Canadian North, said in a statement that the N.W.T.’s main commercial airline will not be adding any direct flights between Yellowknife and Whitehorse during the northern travel bubble, because Yukon’s capital city is not in their purview. 

Canadian North is, however, adding a new flight from Yellowknife to the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut that will help residents travel between the N.W.T and Nunavut, Lewis said. The popular Yellowknife-Rankin Inlet route will not be reinstated in the meantime based on recommendations from the Nunavut government — but Lewis said they’re looking into it. 

“We understand that this is a routing that some people would like to see return so we will look at options to do so when the time is right,” the statement reads. 

‘Not entirely a bubble’ 

Julian MacLean, a dietitian living in Inuvik, will be one of the first people taking advantage of the new northern travel bubble this weekend. 

MacLean said he’s making the time to do the hours-long, 1,200-kilometre drive down the Dempster Highway to Whitehorse to do some vehicle maintenance and grocery shopping before a possible second COVID-19 wave.

“Restrictions will probably get tighter again, so if I don’t go now, I probably wont be able to go later,” MacLean told CBC. 

Maclean said his employer is letting him take the self-isolation time in the N.W.T. upon arrival as leave — but for many others, the N.W.T.’s self-isolation requirements upon return make travel less appealing.

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

Coronavirus: Calgary airport to make face masks mandatory for all travellers, staff

News from Global News – link to story and video

BY DEMI KNIGHT GLOBAL NEWS Posted June 15, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Calgary International Airport is enhancing its safety protocols by making face masks mandatory for all passengers and staff.

Effective June 17, masks or face coverings will be required to be worn in the public areas of all domestic and international terminals.

Officials said the change was made to help keep passengers and workers safe amid the pandemic.

“Our commitment to safety remains our top priority,” said Bob Sartor, the president and CEO of the Calgary Airport Authority.

“As workers and travellers return to YYC, we want them to trust that we remain focused on providing a safe and healthy airport to work at, to begin their journey or to welcome them home.”

The airport is asking travellers, staff and visitors to come with their own face masks, adding that both medical and non-medical masks are acceptable.

WATCH: COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons of a flight-free 2020

The new safety measure was put into place alongside existing protocols, including Transport Canada’s requirement that all customers wear masks at screening checkpoints and during flights when they cannot physically distance from others.

In recent months, Calgary’s airport has seen several changes to its routine operations, including increased cleaning, more sanitizer stations and temperature checks for international travellers.

Individual airlines have also changed the way they do business amid the pandemic. Both WestJet and Air Canada are currently blocking the sale of immediately adjacent seats in economy class and throughout the entire plane, respectively.

Air Canada passengers also 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.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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

A Canadian fix for Calgary weather: WestJet protects planes from hail with hockey boards

From CBC News – link to story

Calgary-based company says it learned from past experiences with the city’s wild weather

Sarah Rieger · CBC News · Posted: Jun 14, 2020

WestJet is using puck boards — like the kind you’d see on hockey rinks — to protect its planes from intense summer hailstorms, like the one that hit northeast Calgary and the city’s airport on Saturday evening. (WestJet, submitted by Tamse Deguzman)

Northeast Calgary was hammered with hail the size of tennis balls Saturday night but one airline said it’s learned from some of the city’s past storms and found an innovative — and very Canadian way — to keep its planes safe.

The Calgary airport is located next to some neighbourhoods that were hardest hit by the storm, where residents saw their homes’ siding shredded and windshields smashed.

As of Sunday morning, the tunnel on Airport Trail was still under water and blocked by abandoned vehicles.

WestJet was forced to ground 130 planes due to pandemic travel restrictions (in peak season, the company would have about 30 planes overnighting in Calgary on any given day).

But while spokesperson Morgan Bell said the company is still inspecting its fleet for damage, things are looking good so far.

Bell said in an email to CBC News that the Calgary-based company has been planning for the city’s “notorious summer hailstorms.”

“Learning from past experiences, this year our innovative team has equipped all 737 aircraft parked in Calgary with puck board, the kind that is more commonly found lining hockey rinks across the country,” Bell said.

WestJet said its using puck boards — the kind you’d find on the side of hockey rinks — to protect vulnerable parts of its airplanes, like the spoilers, from hail while the planes are grounded. ( WestJet)

A spokesperson for Environment Canada said Saturday’s large hail likely fell at a speed of 80 to 100 km/h, not quite as fast as the world record slap shot which clocked at 175 km/h, but still a pretty hard impact.

“The puck board was precisely cut to fit vulnerable spots on these aircraft and will provide an additional layer of protection against weather elements,” she said.

“Working with the aircraft manufacturer the team secured the puck board to susceptible areas, such as critical flight controls and spoilers, which are the hinged plates visible on top of an aircraft’s wings.”

A spokesperson for the Calgary airport said it’s not unusual for extreme weather to impact their operations, but said staff were working hard to keep flights and passengers safe.

“We had some road closures and detours on arrivals and departure levels during the storm and until conditions improved,” the spokesperson said.

CBC News has also reached out to Air Canada to ask whether or not its fleet was damaged by the storm.

A day at the airport in June, 2020: quiet, monotonous and fearful

News from Globe and Mail – link to story

KELLY CRYDERMAN, CALGARY JUNE 15, 2020

Every second check in thermal is closed to enforce social distancing at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, June 9, 2020. One airport staffer quipped that it felt like a zombie apocalypse.TODD KOROL/TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

A sad, near-empty screen shows just two daily arriving flights at the Calgary airport’s international terminal. There are more airport staff than passengers and two police officers patrol by bicycle. The airy concourse, opened less than four years ago to accommodate growing throngs of passenger traffic, is now almost completely devoid of people.

One airport staffer quipped that it felt like a zombie apocalypse.

This Canadian airport terminal in June, 2020, is a quiet, monotonous world of constant cleaning, thermal camera temperature scans and muffled conversations through masks. Besides the worry of inbound COVID-19 infections, there’s the uncertainty about how airports and related sectors will survive a drawn-out pandemic slump that could go on for years.

“It would be cheaper to close the airport now than to continue running it,” said Bob Sartor, chief executive of the Calgary Airport Authority. “But that would have a devastating impact on our community.”

There are usually 24,500 passengers a day flying out of Calgary’s airport – Canada’s fourth-busiest – on domestic and international flights. At the depths of this spring’s lockdown, there were some Saturdays with only 300 departing passengers.

Now there are about 1,000 people flying out of Calgary each day, at least 95-per-cent fewer than normal.

The Starbucks and the gift shop at the international arrivals level are closed, along with more than 80 per cent of all of the airport’s eating and shopping outlets. One open restaurant at this terminal offers 50 per cent off pizza for airport staff – now the primary customer base. The currency exchange is open, although only one person appears at the plexiglass panel for a transaction during a quiet day in June. Demand for parking, rental cars, taxis and ride hailing is down more than 90 per cent.

The airport forecasts that a recovery to 2019 passenger volumes could take three to five years, or longer. Travellers won’t be returning quickly for a multitude of reasons, including the risk of second and third waves of the pandemic, the potential difficulty in getting travel health insurance, and what could be higher travel costs at a time when many people have lost their work and the economy is shaky.

Besides the absence of people, the other striking difference at the airport in the age of coronavirus is the federal and provincial screening of international arrivals for symptoms of COVID-19.

Officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada talk with the passengers on two daily flights arriving from the United States before the travellers pass into the public concourse.

But Alberta has set up a secondary system of passenger screening for international arrivals. Wearing personal protective equipment, including pale yellow medical gowns, Alberta Health Services (AHS) employees meet passengers as they come through the sliding doors into the public wing of the terminal. Everyone faces a medical questionnaire and must outline their plan to adhere to the federally mandated two-week isolation period.

There’s one key difference from the federal screening: Passengers must walk by an infrared technology thermal camera before leaving the airport.

On Friday, Ottawa announced that it will soon become mandatory for all air passengers flying out of, into or within Canada to have their temperatures checked before boarding a plane. But Alberta had already been requiring international travellers arriving to the province by both air (in Calgary and Edmonton) and by land (at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Coutts, Alta.) to submit to temperature checks, as of last month. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said this screening is likely to be in place “indefinitely.”

Alberta Health Services workers screen arriving passengers for COVID-19 symptoms at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, June 9, 2020.TODD KOROL/TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, a medical consultant for AHS in charge of designing and implementing the province’s screening program, said staff at the Calgary airport usually see between 30 and 100 people go through each day. If anyone’s skin temperature is found to be 38 or higher as they walk by the infrared technology thermal camera, they are subject to a secondary check with a touchless thermometer.

Dr. Nijssen-Jordan views the provincial screening program as assisting with what federal officials are doing. Most passengers, she added, are patient with the process and understand there’s reason to be vigilant about trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We’ve had very little unhappiness,” she said.

Sunny Mangat, 35, arrived back in Calgary last week after his mother-in-law’s funeral in Boston. Mr. Mangat, who works for a health care startup, said he was expecting the trip home to be more difficult than it was.

“I was overwhelmed, when I got back here, with all the questions,” he said. “But it’s a good setup. Everyone is friendly.”

In an era of travel shutdowns, who else is still flying internationally? There are still Canadians coming back from the U.S., Mexico and other countries – some were trapped or decided to shelter-in-place as pandemic lockdowns began. There are oil and gas, infrastructure and farm workers deemed essential.

And there are Canadians who are still travelling to the U.S. for a number of reasons. It isn’t widely known, but even in the midst of a ban on discretionary travel between the two countries, American authorities are still allowing Canadians into the country if they fly – not drive – with few restrictions. Some people, upon their return, tell provincial health officials they travelled simply to visit family in the U.S.

“It is a pretty wide latitude in what people are saying is essential,” Dr. Nijssen-Jordan said.

If there is a small glimmer of economic optimism for the Calgary airport in recent weeks, it’s the fact the cargo business has grown through the months of the pandemic.

But airport costs are mostly fixed – and the user fees that make up much of the revenue for the airport authority have evaporated. Across Canada, airports are asking for more help from Ottawa.

Mr. Sartor said the rent relief offered by Ottawa for this year needs to be extended for multiple years to have any real impact. And although federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said airports could benefit under the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility, Mr. Sartor said the interest rates attached to the big business emergency program mean “only a madman would borrow money from that lender.”

Mr. Sartor said airports need interest-free loans from Ottawa to keep operations going while they climb out of the hole created by the pandemic. “Without that, we’ll be forced to raise fees,” he said.

“Airports can survive this. But boy, are they are going to be weakened.”

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.

Federal study will look at feasibility of train linking Calgary airport, downtown and Banff

News from CBC News – link to story

Rail service popular between Calgary and Rockies for decades before it was shut down

Sarah Rieger · CBC News · Posted: Jun 09, 2020

A freight train winds through the mountains in Banff National Park. A Crown corporation is funding a feasibility study to look at a passenger train line connecting Calgary’s airport, the city’s downtown and the Banff townsite. (Lori Kupsch)

Passenger rail service linking the Calgary International Airport, downtown Calgary and Banff could be in the cards, depending on the outcome of a newly announced feasibility study.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank — a federal Crown corporation established three years ago to fund projects deemed to be in the public interest that are expected to generate revenue — will study the idea and pay for the study, Alberta’s government announced Tuesday.

“Certainly arriving by train in Banff would be a fantastic experience. It’s what Banff was built on, in terms of visitors coming by rail,” said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen.

4 million visitors each year

The 130-kilometre line could see up to eight departures per day from the airport to Banff, with stops in Cochrane, Morley and Canmore, and an express service from the Calgary International Airport to downtown Calgary every 20 minutes.

If the train line is built, it would be a public-private partnership.

Approximately four million people visit Banff National Park each year, and 29,000 vehicles pass through the park gates on Highway 1 each day in the summer — 5,000 more than the park’s capacity, Sorensen said.

“Anything that could help us shrink the number of vehicles on the road would help us sustain the Banff National Park experience.”

Because the town is located in a national park, it can’t build its way out of congestion by doubling road widths or creating more parking lots, the mayor noted.

She said a train could potentially make Banff a more affordable destination for tourists. A train could also link up with the Banff-Canmore bus system, meaning travellers could experience the region without ever needing a car.

Last year, Banff partnered with Calgary, Canmore, Cochrane, Lake Louise and Morley to study mass transit solutions for the corridor. It found that a train wouldn’t be feasible without provincial or federal funding.

Banff’s history is tied to rail.

The Town of Banff was originally established as a tourist destination, after Canadian Pacific Railway workers stumbled across the Sulphur Mountain hot springs in the 1880s.

The Rocky Mountaineer still connects Vancouver and Banff, but doesn’t extend passenger service to Calgary.

Passengers wait to board The Canadian in Banff in 1955. A new study will look at the feasibility of building a new line to resurrect passenger rail service between Banff and Calgary. (Nicholas Morant/Town of Banff)

Calgary was once home to a grand CP Rail Station, until it was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Calgary Tower.

The platforms and tracks remained in use underneath the tower by Via Rail, which ran a passenger train between Banff and Calgary until the service was discontinued in 1990. Those platforms still exist, sealed to the public, under the tower.

Calgary’s intracity light rail service doesn’t connect with the city’s airport, which is served by bus.

John Casola, chief investment officer of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, said he was first approached by a private citizen about the idea: Adam Waterous.

Waterous, along with his wife Jan, owns the long-term lease to the Banff Train Station. The couple have been outspoken advocates of Calgary-Banff passenger rail.

Casola said the idea held potential, so the bank began discussions with the Alberta government.

“Once we started talking about it, the original project was from Calgary to Banff. But the project we’re actually looking at now has evolved to cover a link from the Calgary airport to downtown Calgary, and then from Calgary to Banff,” Casola said, adding that the track between the airport and downtown would be a new track, while the track to Banff would be built alongside the CP Rail line.

“The project really has this double-barrelled benefit, of economically benefiting Calgary, going on to benefit Banff, all the while reducing GHG emissions and providing that stimulus.”

With files from Andrew Brown

2 domestic flights to Saskatoon flagged for COVID-19

News from CBC News – link to story

Both flights were travelling to Saskatoon, happened in late May

CBC News · Posted: Jun 08, 2020

A federal government website says two flights travelling to Saskatoon in late May contained people infected with the coronavirus. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

The federal government says two flights headed to Saskatoon carried passengers later diagnosed with COVID-19.

A federal website says Air Canada Flight 1129 from Toronto to Saskatoon on May 29 transported a person found to have the novel coronavirus.

One day later, WestJet Flight 3370 from Calgary to Saskatoon carried a passenger later found to have been infectious.

The website said rows four to 10 of the WestJet flight were affected. Row information on the Air Canada flight was not provided.

Anyone who thinks they may have COVID-19 is asked to use the federal government’s self-assessment tool.

The provincial government asks people who might be infected to phone the Saskatchewan Healthline at 811.