TORONTO – As provinces begin to ease restrictions on domestic travel, abandonment of “blocked seat” health rule by two of Canada’s largest airlines – WestJet and Air Canada – is frustrating and of concern in some passengers.
Air passenger rights activist Gabor Lukacs noted countless complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which were related to the same problem: airlines have refused to offer a refund or accommodation since they renounced the measure of physical distance on board aircraft – by “blocking the middle seat”.
“The question is: do we allow economic considerations to prevail over public health?” Asks Lukacs. We do not allow supermarkets to sell spoiled meat because it is cheaper. Are we going to allow doctors not to disinfect their instruments to save money? ”
Although he recognizes that the airlines want to recover the billions of revenues lost since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Lukacs believes that the carriers risk driving away travelers.
And a recent survey seems to prove him right: a survey conducted by Léger for the Association for Canadian Studies reveals that 72% of respondents are not comfortable taking a plane since Air Canada and WestJet abolished their seat distancing policy on July 1. Only 22% of respondents would agree to embark under the new relaxed rules.
In an email to The Canadian Press, WestJet picks up a July 3 blog post that explains the changes to its seat distancing policy.
“It was at the beginning of the pandemic that the blocked environment seat was introduced, before the implementation of a multitude of safety measures and the obligation to apply them on board, pleads the transporter. It was never intended that distancing on board be a permanent measure or in effect for the duration of the pandemic. ”
Other health measures
However, she denies putting passengers and personnel at risk by refilling her devices, stressing that other security measures mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19. WestJet cites the mandatory wearing of face covers, pre-board questionnaires for all passengers, temperature control, deep disinfection of aircraft between flights and restrictions on on-board catering.
WestJet contends that the temporary distancing measures were put in place at the start of the pandemic “to provide peace of mind to our guests who had to travel when we are planning and implementing” all of these additional hygiene measures.
Air Canada provided a similar statement, while acknowledging the inconvenience that the change may have caused to travelers.
“An email notification will be sent before check-in and an announcement will be made at the boarding gate for economy class customers when it is almost full,” said the carrier. “Customers will have the option of choosing another flight departing within three days or the next available flight at no additional cost,” he adds.
Passengers also said that the mask was not always observed by travelers – and even by airport employees. Air travel has also been at the center of several incidents that have hit the headlines throughout the pandemic – especially since travel restrictions have been relaxed in some areas.
On July 2, British Columbia health officials warned passengers of four separate flights that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The day before – even as the airlines ended their policy of physical distancing – the Nova Scotia public health department warned passengers of a Toronto-Halifax flight from WestJet the previous week that they may have been exposed to the virus.
Last Sunday, a Halifax man reportedly left a flight to Saint John, New Brunswick, after learning that he was the only passenger in the “Atlantic bubble”.
Jake Kivanç, The Canadian Press