UPDATE: On August 13, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced that all commercial air travellers in Canada will be required to be vaccinated (alongside passengers on interprovincial trains and cruise ships). Alghabra said alternative accommodations, like testing and screening, would be made for those who are "unable to be vaccinated."
Speaking about the decision, Alghabra said: "Vaccine requirements in the transportation sector will help protect the safety of employees, their families, passengers, their communities and all Canadians. And more broadly, it will hasten Canada's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic." There's no announcement as to when these measures will be implemented.
The original story, updated on August 11, 2021, follows
We’ve been living in a pandemic for over a year and a half, and in that time we’ve learned a lot about the novel coronavirus and it’s many variants. And while misinformation and outright lies about COVID-19 are still pervasive, there’s plenty of facts scientists and infectious disease experts know to be true: COVID is five times deadlier than the flu, more contagious than the chickenpox, and is an airborne virus mostly spread between unvaccinated people who do not wear masks.
With a fourth wave imminent in Canada, some places (even some universities and colleges) are starting to require people to show proof of vaccination. This week, Quebec announced that a vaccine passport would be required starting September 1 for indoor establishments like restaurants, bars, and gyms (retail not included) in an effort to curb an influx in new cases. Ontario, however, has not issued any proof of vaccine requirements to date, and as of last week still did not require teachers to be vaccinated prior to the school year starting.
The rules are constantly changing, though, and as the world starts opening up again, it begs the question: Will airlines start requiring proof of vaccination? Canadian airlines WestJet and Air Canada have not yet required either domestic travellers or crew to prove they’ve been inoculated before boarding a flight. (International travellers or Canadian travellers returning to Canada must have proof of vaccination to skip the government-mandated 14-day quarantine, but it's not mandatory to fly here.) “WestJet has remained committed to ensuring the health and safety of both our guests and WestJetters (employees), this includes a strong recommendation for WestJetters to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Morgan Bell, a representative for WestJet told Refinery29 via email. Air Canada is taking a similar approach, even setting up vaccine clinics for employees, according to spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick.
Given the fact that most Canadian airlines (WestJet excluded) received government bailouts, mandatory vaccination could be a reality for crew and staff if the government imposes it. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that he’s considering making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all federal employees and federally regulated industries — which includes airlines and rail.
We’ve already seen some U.S. airlines take a firmer approach to ensuring safety for its staff and passengers where two million people are flying every single day. Recently, U.S.-based airline United Airlines (which flies to Canada) announced that it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 15 or within five days of the Federal Food and Drug administration (FDA) fully approving the vaccines — whichever comes first. “We have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: Everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated," Scott Kirby, United Airlines’ chief executive, and Brett Hart, president of United Airlines, wrote in a memo shared with staff, as reported by The New York Times. If employees do not comply, they will be fired.
Delta Airlines, which also flies to Canada, requires new employees to be vaccinated, but has not enforced a vaccination mandate on existing employees, per the same Times report. And Alaska Airlines does not require employees to get vaccinated, and says that while they “highly encourage” travellers to get vaccinated, they do not require it in order to fly with the airlines; American Airlines will not require its workers or customers to get vaccinated, either.
What is perhaps most important to note here, though, is that while most viruses do not easily spread on flights (due to the air circulation system found on planes), COVID-19 is different. Since it is impossible to social distance on a flight, you’re at a higher risk of contracting COVID on an airplane, especially during a long-haul flight. There are steps you can take to mitigate the risk, however, including wearing a mask, limiting the amount of carry-on luggage, pointing the air nozzle directly at your head and keeping it on at all times, and staying seated whenever possible. Currently, masks are required on all flights, though notably not always enforced.
With more Canadians getting back on planes — Air Canada reported 2.3 million passengers the past six months, while WestJet reported 1.5 million since January 2021, along with new domestic and international routes being added for both airlines — the goal is, if you decide to travel, to do it safely...
The best defense against contracting COVID-19 on a plane still remains the vaccine — currently, 90% of United Airlines’ pilots and 80% of their flight attendants have been fully vaccinated, according to the airline. United Airlines is offering their pilots and flight crews extra pay if they show proof of vaccination, and on Aug. 11, Etihad Airways, an international airline based out of Abu Dhabi, announced it was “the first airline in the world with 100% vaccinated crew on board,” per The Washington Post. Back in April, Qatar Airways completed its first fully-vaccinated (crew and passenger) flight. Hopefully one will happen in Canada soon.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.