As Canada’s two largest airlines move to 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 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. And if not, wear the medical mask,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday. Masks or face coverings have been mandatory on flights since April 20.
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.
WATCH | Tam questioned about airlines ending physical distancing in cabins:
Karen Kabiri took his first plane trip in five years on 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,” said Kabiri, 44.
The piano teacher from Toronto, who stopped over in Montreal before continuing on to Tehran via Qatar to help with funeral arrangements, spent several hours outside the terminal at Trudeau airport with his other sister, who lives in the area but could not make the trip. Enduring a light drizzle, the siblings adhered to Transport Canada rules that prevent anyone but staff and passengers from entering airports.
Kabiri said he had concerns about stepping into a packed cabin, though he credited Air Canada for providing all passengers with a mask, gloves, disinfectant wipes and a water bottle.
“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 Monday flight bound for 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.