The Canadian airline industry is requesting more health guidance and financial support from the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the Canadian government announced its closure of non-essential travel on March 21st and urged all Canadians abroad to return home as quickly as possible, airlines like Air Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing are working to bring the remainder of Canadians home before they begin layoffs and temporarily shut down operations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on flight attendants and other front-line crew to provide mandatory screenings and complete a basic health assessment in order to monitor returning passengers for any COVID-19 symptoms. This has left many airline employee unions and flight crew demanding more guidance on how exactly these airline companies are to properly screen passengers and ensure that symptoms are being properly identified.
“We were not provided with any guidance or special protocols from Public Health or the government to make such medical assessments to the public, we are not healthcare professionals” said one flight attendant who works with Air Canada.
The 33-year-old woman from Etobicoke, who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisal, said many of her coworkers are worried as they do not feel confident in the government’s decision to leave basic health assessments to air crew. She believes a representative from the Public Health Agency of Canada or a registered medical professional should make such calls.
The government has not provided air crew with COVID-19 safety protocols and has exempt aircrew along with other essential services workers from quarantine.
Many of the return flights to Canada are filled at maximum capacity, and with such little guidance and very few screening measures put in place, there’s a chance that people carrying the virus can travel back to Canada undetected and infect other passengers and air crew on board.
“It felt like an incubation tube on my packed flight back and I did not feel safe at all,” said Moreen Glorial, a passenger who returned on a connecting flight from Tokyo to Toronto on board Air Canada last Thursday.
The 24-year-old United Nations intern said she was very surprised at the lack of screening measures put in place. She said all she was asked to do was fill out a card declaring she did not feel ill. She explained that she also received an information pamphlet upon her arrival at Toronto Pearson’s International Airport on the topic of mandatory self-isolation of 14 days in accordance to The Quarantine Act.
There was no checking of temperature before departure, antiseptic wipes, or any regular monitoring of symptoms during the flight back to Canada, Glorial confirmed. She said the only precautions taken were minimal interaction with flight attendants and pre-packaged meals to reduce contact with passengers.
How has Canada’s airline industry been economically impacted by COVID-19?
The lack of guidance in conducting basic medical assessments is only one way in which Canadian airline companies are being impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Airline companies also face economic losses and risk going under with Canada’s closing of its borders.
The Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) wrote a formal letter on March 16 requesting the government’s assistance to support the Canadian aviation industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The association requested that the air transport industry be considered in the financial assistance package and aid the government is putting forward to assist in the damage done by closing off non-essential travel.
In the letter, President and CEO of ATAC John Mckenna said he recognizes these measures taken by the government were necessary in helping in reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, he noted that it has put the airline industry in a bad state.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs also rely upon air transport of people and goods. Thus the socio-economic stability of many regions of Canada that depend on the air transport industry is at stake,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an aid package for the airline industry would follow, however nothing has been proposed yet with some saying that if the government waits any longer it may be too late.