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Critics Are Not On Board With Airlines Decrease In-Flight Physical Distance During COVID-19

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Canada’s Two Largest Airlines’ Decision To Relax Onboard Physical Distancing Policies Next Month Is Under Fire From Those Concerned About Health Consequences To Do Amid Amid COVID-19 Pandemic .

Air Canada and WestJet announced Friday that they will begin selling tickets for adjacent seats effective July 1, after blocking access to these seats in recent months to allow passengers to maintain a safe distance. relative to each other.

Flexing physical distance on flights contradicts federal government directives, but is in line with recommendations from the United Nations Aviation Agency and the trade organization of the world’s major airlines, which called for an end to rules of physical distance in flight in May.

“We really feel like we removed the carpet from below,” said Sarah Antonio, a Toronto resident with a ticket for a WestJet flight to Vancouver on July 8. “I just thought they would take our security more seriously.”

Antonio said she and her husband were going on a business trip they were supposed to do in March, but chose to delay due to the pandemic. She said the main reason they felt comfortable booking the flight now was because WestJet had explicitly stated during the ticket booking process that the middle seat would be empty.

Toronto resident Sarah Antonio says she is concerned about her health after hearing that WestJet will now allow customers to book seats side by side. The couple flies to Vancouver on July 8 for a business trip. (Sarah Antonio / Submitted)

“We took some comfort in this option,” she said. “Seeing that my husband and I are from the same house, we thought,” Oh, that’s great. We will argue. “”

Antonio said she was upset when she discovered that the middle seat could be filled from a tweet sent by her friend, not by the airline.

“You are selling us something that you do not provide,” she said.

In a statement to CBC News, WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said that the safety of its customers is a top priority and that the company’s protocols are in line with industry best practices.

“In the event that a guest is not comfortable on board, we suggest discussing the seating arrangement with our crew, as they will continue to accommodate if there is space,” said Bell . “In the rare event that a guest wishes to disembark before the cabin door is closed, they would be able to board the next available flight.”

WATCH: Air Canada and WestJet will stop taking physical distance on flights

Air Canada and WestJet end their seat distancing policy. Transport Canada has listed physical distance as one of the main ways to help prevent the spread of the virus in a guide published for the aviation industry in April. 2:18

Devastating impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry

The airline industry practically collapsed after travel restrictions and health warnings made many people reluctant to fly.

Worldwide, the industry is expected to lose between $ 152 billion and $ 187 billion in 2020, according to estimates by the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Airlines in Canada lost about 90% of their revenues, with planes idle in April and May.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry’s trade organization, last month proposed a series of measures to revive the global airline industry after months of declining passenger numbers. IATA stated that the need for physical distance on flights has been avoided by the requirements for face covers and the use of HEPA air filtration systems that are equivalent to those in operating rooms. hospitals, among other measures.

Air Canada and WestJet cited the IATA health recommendations as the rationale for their decision to start selling tickets for each seat, even though Transport Canada listed physical distance as one of the “key points” to prevent the spread of virus as part of a guide published to the aeronautical industry in April.

Passengers wearing mandatory masks await their flight using physical distance measurements at Toronto Pearson International Airport on June 23. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

“Operators should develop guidelines for passenger spacing on planes where possible to optimize social distance,” said the document.

Although that opinion has not changed, a spokesperson for the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, said that the onboard spacing requirement is only a recommendation and therefore not mandatory.

“Other considerations such as aircraft configuration, passenger needs and aviation safety must be taken into account when spacing passengers on board an aircraft,” said director of communications Amy. Butcher.

Canadian airlines have taken a number of measures beyond physical distance on flights to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They must carry out temperature checks before boarding and require masks on board for the crew and passengers. They also implemented improved aircraft cleaning and reduced in-flight service in late March, cutting out hot drinks, hot meals and fresh food.

Ottawa should make physical distance mandatory: NDP

New Democrat MP Niki Ashton said that the same physical distance rules that apply across Canada should also apply to airplanes.

“It really reflects the airlines’ profit-oriented agenda,” she said. “The Canadian government should do much more than encourage or shrug.”

Air Canada and WestJet are not alone in promoting the IATA recommendations against in-flight physical remoteness.

Low-cost airline Flair Airlines has never adopted an intermediate no-seat policy, CEO Jim Scott said in an interview.

“It was really easy to have space between the passengers because, until two weeks ago, we had no passengers,” he said.

Scott said that as more tickets have been booked in the past 14 days, the airline has faced a choice: block the middle seats and raise all fares up to 40% or find some other way. Flair chose to allow passengers who book flights in a specific section of an aircraft to pay a fee of $ 49 to ensure that the seat next to them remains vacant.

Other Canadian airlines, including Air Transat and Porter Airlines, suspended flights until mid-late July. Air Transat has stated that when it returns to flight on July 23, the middle seats will not be blocked.

“We will, however, to the best of our ability, apply remote seats where possible … [for example] when the load factor allows, “said Air Transat spokesman Christophe Hennebelle.

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