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What it's like flying across the US right now

Brekke Fletcher, CNN  Updated 29th June 2020
(CNN) — After months of lonely isolation in my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, I finally decided to bite the bullet and fly to Northern California on Saturday -- using the utmost precautions with a pre-assembled Covid-19 kit: mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and a straw.
Three days before my Saturday morning Delta flight from New York JFK to San Francisco International on Saturday, June 27 (the only nonstop between those two cities Delta Air Lines is operating currently), I received a text. "To ensure everyone's safety on your upcoming Delta flight, all customers will be required to wear a mask, starting at check-in. delta.com/facemasks."
I received two more emails and another safety reminder before boarding. As far as flying during a pandemic goes, they were really going the extra mile to make sure I knew that this was not going to be like any other flight.
I hadn't really considered flying at all until Delta (and other airlines) cracked down on mask-wearing. And when Delta confirmed that they wouldn't sell middle seats, I figured I could do this thing.
Empty gates, few planes, unused equipment: Welcome to the pandemic airport.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
Still, I felt unsure of whether I should do it. New York City had so many cases, and despite the fact that I'd taken every precaution to protect myself and others, and been tested (negative) despite having been exposed, I still felt that banking on other passengers being as concerned and careful as I have been and continue to be was a bad bet.
The number of things one can control with air travel hovers around the zero mark regardless of this global pandemic, so I felt that if the airlines were taking this measure for our safety, I could fly with a little less anxiety.

Good day, sunshine

But still when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., I thought, maybe I should skip it. The airlines have been great in offering unprecedented flexibility in terms of changing plans without penalties (though not so much with the refunds), and I'm sitting on a lot of unused plane tickets from the before times when I had travel plans.
I ordered my Uber (and this was my fourth time using the service during the pandemic), and the young driver was not masked, nor was there any discussion about masks. The previous rides I'd taken were like hazmat cars with plastic partitions and signs about keeping your mask on and the windows open and a vat of hand sanitizer duct taped to the back of the center console.
Off to an auspicious start, we got the to the airport in under 25 minutes -- I kept my masked face pointed out the open window like a bleary-eyed pit bull.

Welcome back

The JFK Terminal 4 airport drop-off area, usually rife with taxis and town cars, was a ghost town. I think I saw a tumbleweed, which I followed metaphorically into the empty check-in area.Inside JFK Terminal 4 after passing through the nearly-empty security checkpoint on June 27, 2020.
Inside JFK Terminal 4 after passing through the nearly-empty security checkpoint on June 27, 2020.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
I proceeded to the bag drop, and there were only four other travelers being helped. The desk agent asked if I was going to LA, San Francisco or Atlanta, because those were the only three flights departing at that hour.
I went through Clear security because, why not, I paid for it, but there were only two or three people moving through the queues. It felt like the world's largest private jet terminal -- or what I imagine that might feel like because I've never flown private.
The tumbleweed kept leading me through the empty terminal, a long walk to gate B37, where just in February I had passed swarms of folks, getting last-minute supplies at Kiehl's, cleaning out the Duty Free stock of Absolut, stocking up at Hudson News, lining up for Shake Shack. But other than the empty Hudson News and the essential Peets Coffee & Tea, not much was open.Et tu, Shake Shack? Closed stores, shuttered restaurants in a sparsely populated Terminal 4 at JFK.
Et tu, Shake Shack? Closed stores, shuttered restaurants in a sparsely populated Terminal 4 at JFK.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
I saw few humans. Walking along felt like a post-apocalyptic movie about a ragtag group of survivors living in an abandoned airport terminal, surviving on a diet of rationed Smart Water, self-help books and Pringles. But at least there was plenty of hand sanitizer.
I arrived at the gate right at boarding time, and somehow it was already empty. Was I really the last person to board an 8 a.m. flight at 7:20? It seemed so. I had planned on getting on last anyway so it was a win, albeit a weird one.A solitary journey ends in a crowded jet way, Gate 37 at JFK Terminal 4.
A solitary journey ends in a crowded jet way, Gate 37 at JFK Terminal 4.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN

Welcome aboard -- with caveats

Once I went through the gate and winded down towards the plane, I finally saw a line of about 15 people waiting to board. All were masked as far as I could deduce using backs of heads as a reference, but no one was anywhere near six feet apart. Another great reason to bring up the rear because that's the only way you can control keeping away from others.
The flight attendant, masked and gloved and tidy, smiled with his eyes as he handed me a tiny Purell packet. Looking down the aisle of the 757-200 (and peaking into the 16-seat business class cabin), I could not see anyone setting next to anyone. The middle seats were empty as promised, and the rest of the cabin was basically full.Even the lighting on the plane was moody.
Even the lighting on the plane was moody.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
I always use the aisle because I like to get up and walk around a lot during six-hour flights, and I'm a major water drinker. I tried to keep my liquid intake to a minimum, though, as I wanted to minimize lavatory visits.
When I got to 23C the woman in 23A was in deep cleansing mode, reminding me of Naomi Campbell's pre-flight ritual (shared this time last year, well before Covid-19), which is very much in line with my own airplane seat cleansing regime.
Cleanliness is king
She looked at me suspiciously. I knew she was wondering if I was, well, a clean person. So, as I got settled, I broke out my coronavirus kit with the anti-viral wipes and went to town on every touch point in my vicinity. I saw her smile (I think) -- she made eye contact and her cheeks seemed raised -- as I wrapped up my used wipes and tossed them, along with my used gloves, into a plastic baggie that I placed under my seat, followed by a rigorous application of my newly-procured Aesop hand sanitizer. Yes, I spent $10 on hand sanitizer, because I'm worth it.
I snapped a few pictures, but nothing really could communicate the silence. It was pin-drop silent, and everyone who had a window seat seemed to decide that despite it being MORNING on a beautiful SUNNY day, we all needed to fly in a tomb.
It felt solemn, dare I say, funereal on that 757-200. In the dark, no one speaking above a whisper if at all, it was as if I had noise-canceling headphones on.The author's selfie aboard a nonstop Delta flight from New York City to San Francisco.
The author's selfie aboard a nonstop Delta flight from New York City to San Francisco.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
All of the crew announcements before takeoff took on a tone of resilience and resolve: Wear a mask, keep your distance, if you need to eat or drink, do it quickly and get that mask back on. Don't hover around the lavatory, don't hover, do your best to keep your distance, understanding it is impossible to keep six feet apart inside a cramped tube going 580 miles-per-hour at 38,000 feet. There will be no food or beverage service, but we will pass around snack bags.

And we're off

We were, unsurprisingly, number one for takeoff. All I could hear was the roar of the engines. Everyone faced forward, some were watching movies, some were reading, some were sleeping. It could have been the middle of the night for all I knew with those shades drawn and the lack of human voices or babies and children squealing.
Once the WiFi turned on after ascending above 10,000 feet, I started working, actually writing some of the above and taking notes about this article, because I find that makes the time go faster than watching "Knives Out" for the fifth time. I did eye the movie "Cats," but decided that was a bridge too far for me first thing in the morning, even with Idris Elba playing Macavity.Snack pack with Cheez-Its, water, Biscoff cookies and Purell.
Snack pack with Cheez-Its, water, Biscoff cookies and Purell.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
When the snack bag cart came towards me, I longed for the sweet relief of a morning ginger ale to settle my tummy, but instead I got a sealed plastic bag, reminding me immediately of school lunches on field trips, but instead of actual food, I received Cheez-Its, a Biscoff cookie and a bottle of water.
Not to be ungrateful, but would it kill them to throw in a banana or a Kind bar?

Passing the time

Since that was all the aisle action we could expect (save for the eight times flight attendants walked up and down the aisles collecting trash), I decided to throw myself a bone and check out "Cats."Tried to watch "Cats," but it didn't take.
Tried to watch "Cats," but it didn't take.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
After about 15 minutes, it was back to work. That movie. I can't. Not even ironically.
I did sadly have to go to the lav a few times, as did 23A, but it was the cleanest and least gross airplane toilet I have ever encountered. Not a shred of evidence that anyone had ever been inside, so it would seem people are not always filthy, disgusting animals. I still don't understand what usually goes on in there.Why, yes. I do happen to want another bag of Cheez-Its.
Why, yes. I do happen to want another bag of Cheez-Its.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
Before I knew it, three snack bags later (and yes, I ate six Biscoffs and three bags of Cheez-Its in six hours), the pilot was announcing our descent. The time went by so quickly, I was shocked. I thought it would feel endless.

Touchdown, heavy on the touch

As the plane touched down and the flight leader welcomed us to SFO, he had explicit deplaning instructions. Stay seated until the row in front of you has collected their belongings and cleared at least six feet.
The seatbelt sign turned off and guess what -- that's when the humans returned to their usual air travel/animal brain/fight-or-flight mode.
EVERYONE (not me or 23A, mind you) shot up and started climbing all over each other to get their belongings out of overhead bins. The aisle was immediately jammed, and despite trying to keep away from the throngs, I felt a body part of another traveler pressed against my right arm, which I jerked away, as I made the dirtiest look I could muster while masked.Pandemonium upon landing -- all behavior bets are off.
Pandemonium upon landing -- all behavior bets are off.
Brekke Fletcher/CNN
Because I'm conflict-averse, I strenuously texted my friend in NYC that the wheels had officially come off the bus. I was instantly reminded of how New Yorkers had handled the pandemic closures in April. Most everyone followed the rules, the streets were empty and quiet.
And then, boom, it's late May, the captains turned off the seat belt sign, and everyone swarmed the parks and streets as if the thing was over, simply because they were over it.
Clearly, six hours was the most my fellow passengers could give. As I tried to take my turn, to get up and leave while standing my ground, I stepped aside as people pushed and plunged into me.
Then 23A passed by me, and I said to her with my eyes, "Thank you for being such a thoughtful aisle-mate."
Her clipped but polite nod as she whooshed past said: "You, too. Be safe. Take care."
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good news for a number of Canadian Airlines.  

Coronavirus: EU to allow in visitors from 15 'safe' countries

  • 30 June 2020
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Passport control at Larnaca airport, Cyprus, file picImage copyrightREUTERS

The EU has decided that from Wednesday EU borders will be reopened to citizens from 15 non-EU countries, including Canada, Morocco and Australia, but not the US, Brazil and Russia.

China is on the list, but subject to a reciprocal agreement, still pending.

The unanimous decision by the European Council is not legally binding, so states can choose not to open up to all those countries.

Diplomats spent five days debating the list, amid varying pandemic concerns.

The so-called "safe travel destinations" are, besides China: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

The UK and four other non-EU states - Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway - are automatically included as "safe".

The BBC's Gavin Lee in Brussels says there was intense lobbying by representatives of the US, Russia and Turkey to get included on the list.

EU officials say the decision was based on a number of scientific factors:

  • Ensuring that the Covid-19 infection rate in the country was low enough (where nations had fewer than 16 in every 100,000 infected)
  • That there was a downward trend of cases
  • That social distancing measures were at "a sufficient level"

One diplomat from a north European member state told the BBC that a "certain amount of geopolitics influenced the decision too" and that "Balkan and Eastern European states had recommended" that Georgia, a former Soviet state, be included.

The Hungarian government is understood to have lobbied for Serbia's inclusion. Spanish officials say they requested that Morocco be on the list, provided there was an agreement of reciprocity.

Denmark and Austria were among several member states arguing for the number of countries to be fewer than 15.

But in the end, it was adopted unanimously by member states.

Each state will have to announce when it intends to start readmitting citizens from some or all of those countries.

French officials say they expect to implement the decision in the "coming days".

The Czech Republic has published a list of eight countries that it considers safe for travel.

The EU list will be updated every two weeks.

UK covered by Brexit transition phase

Many border controls have been lifted for EU citizens travelling inside the bloc. Future rules for UK travellers are part of the current Brexit negotiations.

But UK nationals are still to be treated in the same way as EU citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, the EU Commission says.

So during this period UK nationals and their family members are exempt from the EU's temporary travel restriction.

EU nations in the 26-member Schengen zone normally allow passport-free border crossings for EU citizens, but national authorities have reimposed restrictions in this crisis.

The UK is currently negotiating temporary "air bridges" with several EU member states, so that the coronavirus pandemic does not totally block summer holidays - the busiest season in Europe for tourism, which employs millions of people.

In the EU discussions there were splits between those such as Spain - wanting the boost of tourism, but preferring to play safe because they have been hit so hard by Covid-19 - and others like Greece and Portugal, which depend on tourism but are less scarred by the virus.


You'd think it'd be quite straightforward, deciding which non-EU countries to consider "safe". But it's been a tortuous, divisive process, mixing politics and economics, as well as public health.

Countries like Germany and Spain, horrified by the devastation of Covid-19, wanted to play it safe.

They pushed to have a short list of countries with low infection rates, a good health service and reliable health data.

But Greece and Portugal had other ideas. Anxious to boost their post-lockdown, flagging economies with tourism, and less scarred by widespread infection at the height of the pandemic, they wanted as long a list as possible.

Then came France, insisting on reciprocity. If a non-EU country was barring flights from the bloc, argued Paris, they shouldn't appear on the list.

And finally: diplomatic considerations. How awkward for the EU to include some countries but not others. Thumbs up to visitors from Canada, Japan and China from 1 July - if Beijing allows EU visitors entry - but not travellers from the US.

After days of haggling, the final list is an attempted compromise. Much metaphorical sweat, blood and tears for a list that is advisory only, open to exceptions and will be regularly tweaked and updated.

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But, we may be facing another virus attack.

New strain of flu found in China has potential to become a pandemic, scientists warn

  • The new strain has descended from the type of flu (“swine flu”) that emerged in 2009 causing the first global flu pandemic in 40 years.
  • As with swine flu, however, the new strain has been identified as having “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”
  • The new strain of flu should be monitored closely, scientists say.
Scientists find potential new strain of ‘pandemic’ swine flu in China

Scientists have identified a new strain of flu carried by pigs in China that they say has the potential to become a pandemic.

The new strain is descended from the type of flu — known as “swine flu” — that emerged in 2009 causing the first global flu pandemic in 40 years.


The scientists published their peer-reviewed findings in U.S. science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. They said the new strain of flu, which they called “G4 EA H1N1,” is a variation of swine flu, and includes the “G4″ genotype that has become predominant in swine populations since 2016.

As with swine flu, the new strain has been identified as having “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”

The scientists, who studied flu viruses in pig populations between 2011 and 2018, noted that around 10% of swine industry workers they tested in China had already been exposed to the virus, which they described as “of concern.” That rate increased among younger workers, aged 18-35, “indicating that the predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity.”

“Such infectivity greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses,” the scientists, who work at several Chinese universities and the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted. 

They recommended close monitoring of swine populations — and anyone working with them.


“Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” they wrote.

“Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus. Thus, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure for prewarning the emergence of the next pandemic influenza.”

While “swine flu,” that first emerged in Mexico in 2009, is seen now as one of a variety of seasonal flu viruses and is included in annual flu vaccines, the scientists said that any preexisting population immunity “does not provide protection against G4 viruses.”

They were keen to stress that the virus is not an immediate problem, however.

Professor Kin-Chow Chang, one of scientists involved in the study and who works at Nottingham University in the U.K., told the BBC that “while this new virus is not an immediate problem ... We should not ignore it.”

“Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”

Current flu vaccines do not appear to protect against it, although they could possibly be adapted if needed, the BBC reported. To conduct their research, scientists carried out flu surveillance in pigs in 10 Chinese provinces between January 2011 and April 2018, and collected almost 30,000 nasal swabs taken from slaughtered pigs from abattoirs, as well as over 1,000 nasal swabs or lung tissue from farmed pigs with signs of respiratory disease.

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Air travel is about to go through its biggest transformation since 9/11 — and passengers will pay for it

News from the Vancouver Sun – link to story and videos

Gabriel Friedman | Publishing date:Jun 26, 2020 

airtravel.jpg?quality=100&strip=all&w=56 All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur. REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR

Nearly two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks transformed airports, leading to security barriers where none had existed before, the coronavirus pandemic is once again upending air travel.

This time around, the focus is on health measures, and the use of technology that in theory could make the experience “touchless” and more automated, but could also lead to higher ticket prices.


“We need faster, cleaner, better ways to get through the airport,” Robyn McVicker, vice president of operations and maintenance at Vancouver Airport Authority told the Financial Post. “It’s something that we believe is the future.”

Already, Vancouver airport and others are doubling down on touchless technology that allows passengers to print a baggage ticket and drop their bags off at a self-serve kiosk that eliminates the need to touch or interact with anyone at the airport.

She said her team is already working on a project called “Phoenix” that reimagines “every single process in the airport” using technology, whether that means waiting in line, waiting at the gate and even the need for paper tickets. In the future, McVicker thinks airports will begin using biometric facial scans, so that passengers can glide through the airport in less time, with less waiting.

“The industry has never been more aligned on how do we make things better than it is today,” said McVicker.

There is much at stake in figuring out how to bring air travel back. Airports across the country are already facing sharp declines in revenue. Even with widespread layoffs, some airports are looking to raise money by increasing the fees that passengers pay, or borrowing, just to support the costs of their overhead.

pearson.jpg?quality=100&strip=all&w=564 An empty check-in counter at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO

Nathan Janzen, a senior economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, said that aspects of the economy “that require people to congregate” will be the slowest to recover.

But he said airports form a crucial backbone to the economy, allowing people to travel to a region, facilitating investment in businesses and allowing a freer flow of goods.

“Those are the kinds of things that can be a structural impediment to a longer term to medium term recovery, if you don’t figure out a way to make them work,” Janzen said.


The drop in air travel has been dramatic. One day in mid-June, about 5,000 people arrived or departed on a flight out of the Vancouver International Airport — about 97 per cent less than the 75,000 people that would normally service the airport.

Across the country, other airports, big and small, are experiencing similar situations. In Calgary, for example, about 1,000 passengers were travelling on a day when normally there would be 24,500 passengers.

Toronto’s Pearson Airport reported a 97 per cent drop in passenger traffic in April.

At Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport, around 350 people travelled through compared to nearly 13,000 on average at this time in prior years.

“But that’s really good news,” said Barry Rempel, president and chief executive of Winnipeg Airports Authority, “because we had days, for example, the 6th of May, we had fewer than a hundred people boarding.”

Rempel is hopeful that as federal and provincial authorities relax social distancing guidelines, air travel will slowly pick up again, but he knows that regional airports such as the one in Winnipeg will likely trail airports that have a more international flight list.

In any case, no one is under any illusion that air travel will snap back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.

In March, the country’s airlines gradually suspended most or in some cases all of their flights as federal and provincial health authorities issued new rules to contain the spread of COVID-19, in a move that corresponded with tens of thousands of layoffs.

Toronto-based Porter Airlines stopped flying altogether and still has no plans to resume flights until July 29 at the earliest.

Montreal-based Air Transat has said it plans to resume flying on July 23 after a four-month hiatus.

Calgary-based Westjet has said it is only flying five per cent of its schedule, and is not releasing a schedule beyond Aug. 5.

Montreal-based Air Canada has reduced its flight schedule by 85 to 90 per cent. A The company says it’s hopeful that it will see a recovery, which would mean that its flight schedule would only be reduced by 75 per cent.

All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur.

Transport Canada also requires all passengers at least two years old to bring their own face mask and wear it throughout the duration of the flight.

Despite these measures, people aren’t travelling.

“The airport’s not a comfortable place these days,” said Rempel. “It’s a welcoming building, but it’s empty.”

calgary-2.jpg?quality=100&strip=all&w=56 Alberta Health Services staff meet airline passengers entering the International arrivals area at the Calgary International Airport where they are directed to a new COVID-19 screening area. JIM WELLS/POSTMEDIA

To coax people back into airports, he said staff are taking extra precautions — hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the building and the staff to passenger ratio is high enough that every single screen can be immediately cleaned after it’s used.

They have even installed a new technology that cleans the escalator handrail on a constant basis.

“Think of it as a bath that the handrail goes through every time it makes a circuit,” said Rempel. “That’s the kind of thing we’re doing.”

Still, Rempel said his revenues are currently about three per cent of normal. While the Winnipeg Airport Authority slashed capital spending plans from $175 million to $7 million, Rempel has also applied to raise the airportimprovement fee’ that every passenger pays as part of their ticket fare, from $25 to $38.

“If traffic comes back next year — it won’t, I believe — then we’ll be reducing that,” he said, adding that otherwise the increase should help sustain the airport through  2024 or 2025, by which time he expects air travel to resume to normal levels.

While the federal government has waived the lease payments that airports pay until December — which typically amount to between 11-12 per cent of total revenues,  according to several airport executives interviewed for this article — Rempel said it will not be enough to save his airport.

Reid Fiest, a spokesman for Calgary Airports Authority, said his company is hoping the federal waiver is extended for four or five years so airports can manage their debt.

“We’re doing a lot to try and make people feel comfortable and that it’s safe to travel,” said Fiest, adding he expects it could take three to five years, “but there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

The simple reality is no one knows when air travel will return.

“It’s the billion-dollar question,” said McVicker. “The reality is forecasting is a voodoo science right now.”

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13 minutes ago, Fido said:

Who else did the journalist figure would pay for it?

In the Libertal land of Nod, then I guess we would all pay for it with money divided out to support local airports. 

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Unifor meets with Minister Garneau to review air transportation sector priorities



Jul 10, 2020, 17:35 ET

TORONTO, July 10, 2020 /CNW/ - Unifor leadership representing air transportation workers met with federal Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau and representatives from his office today via videoconference to discuss the importance of ensuring the airline industry is able to weather the storm until Canada is able to return to successful travel and tourism after COVID-19.

"Unifor is a union for air transportation workers. Keeping the industry healthy is a priority during this unprecedented crisis," said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. "Governments must listen to the voices of airline workers, remain vigilant and continue relying on science-based health and safety guidelines as a roadmap to economic recovery."

Unifor members presented Garneau with a policy paper containing several recommendations to preserve and support the industry where travel restrictions remain in place, and lift travel restrictions where it is safe to do so. Unifor is recommending the development of a national aviation plan, an industry specific corporate support package, adjustments to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and a national plan for a return to travel that prioritizes health and safety protocols.

Unifor works with many employers in the travel and tourism industry including hotels, airlines, and airports to implement health and safety protocols that will increase the safety of workers and the travelling public. These protocols include: ensuring workers have access to appropriate PPE, enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures, appropriate social and physical distancing measures, the development of a pandemic response plan, and much more.

Unifor leadership on the call included National President Jerry Dias, Local 2002 president Euila Leonard, Sunwing Pilots Local 7378 president Barret Arman, Air Traffic Controllers Local 5454 executive vice president Doug Best, Air Traffic Specialists Local 2245 president Elizabeth O'Hurley, and Local 2002 Bargaining Committee chair Frances Galambosy,

Unifor represents more than 16,500 workers in the Canadian air transportation sector, including pilots, customer service representatives, air traffic controllers, flight service specialists, aircraft mechanics, airport workers, and flight attendants.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.



For further information: To arrange for interviews, in-person or via Skype/Facetime, please contact Unifor Communications Representative Ian Boyko at ian.boyko@unifor.org or 778-903-6549 (cell).

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  • 1 month later...

Seems the Feds have a plan.

Government of Canada releases Canada's Flight Plan for safe air travel


Transport Canada 

Aug 14, 2020, 11:46 ET


OTTAWA, Aug. 14, 2020 /CNW/ - While the Government of Canada continues to recommend Canadians avoid non-essential international travel, Canadians need to know that the Government of Canada continues to work with partners to protect public health by implementing measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel. This is especially important during a period where jurisdictions both within Canada and beyond begin to open up and lift restrictions including those on travel.


Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, announced Canada's Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19 (Canada's Flight Plan), which is the foundation for Canada's current and future efforts to reduce the public health risks of COVID-19 while travelling by aircraft. This action plan puts in place a multi-layered system of safety measures to support public health by protecting air travellers and air industry workers from COVID-19. The Government of Canada has worked with public health authorities, counterparts around the world, and industry partners to develop a plan for COVID safety in air travel that is aligned to emerging global safety standards and best practices.

Key changes apply to all aspects of air travel, including in airports and aircraft. They include travel restrictions; mandatory use of face masks for passengers and crew; mandatory health checks by air carriers prior to passenger boarding; temperature screening at the busiest Canadian airports and at points of origin for all incoming flights to Canada; restricted services and passenger movement during flights; and enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols and practices.

In airports, these designs and measures include enhanced air conditioning and filtration systems; frequent cleaning of high-touch areas; new touchless technologies to scan boarding passes; and physical distancing measures. Modern passenger aircraft also offer a unique environment with design characteristics that reduce the risk of viral transmission. The air is exchanged at a high rate, with HEPA filtration in most large commercial aircraft. Further, the potential spread of the virus between rows is reduced by the high seatbacks and the fact that almost all passengers are seated in the same direction.

These measures prioritize the safety and security of travellers and industry employees, and have positioned Canada as an international leader in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 while travelling by air. To date, the Government of Canada is not aware of any cases attributed to passenger-to-passenger transmission on a flight to or from Canada. However, work continues with the provinces and territories to strengthen contact-tracing processes to reduce and quantify the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel.

Canada's Flight Plan will be refined as the Government of Canada learns more about COVID-19, and as international best practices evolve to ensure safety and efficiency of the Canadian aviation system in the months and years to come.


"Canada is a large country and safe and secure air travel is critical for Canadians to connect with loved ones and for those who rely on it to support their businesses. Implementing Canada's Flight Plan reinforces our ongoing commitment to protect public health and minimize the COVID-19 risks associated with air travel. This comprehensive plan aligns the actions of government and industry partners to the best practices emerging around the world to protect passengers and air industry workers from COVID-19."

Minister of Transport
The Honourable Marc Garneau

Quick Fact

  • Canada's Flight Plan uses the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) Report and Take-Off Guidance as a reference point to identify touch points, considerations and recommended practices to maximize the safety and security of air travel both in Canada and across the world.

Associated Links

Transport Canada is online at www.tc.gc.ca. Subscribe to e-news or stay connected through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to keep up to date on the latest from Transport Canada.

This news release may be made available in alternative formats for persons living with visual disabilities.

SOURCE Transport Canada


For further information: Livia Belcea, Press Secretary, Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, Ottawa, Livia-marina.belcea@tc.gc.ca; Media Relations, Transport Canada, Ottawa, media@tc.gc.ca, 613-993-0055

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Air Canada, WestJet, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, and Vancouver Airport Authority Jointly Comment on Transport Canada's Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19 Français


Air Canada 

Aug 14, 2020, 16:39 ET

Air Canada, WestJet, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, and Vancouver Airport Authority Jointly Comment on Transport Canada’s Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19 (CNW Group/Air Canada)
Air Canada, WestJet, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, and Vancouver Airport Authority Jointly Comment on Transport Canada’s Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19 (CNW Group/Air Canada)
  • Document affirms that the four organizations meet or exceed international health and safety measures
  • Travellers assured of the highest levels of biosafety protocols when travelling
  • Framework now in place for Canada's next steps to allow aviation and economies to restart and succeed within new normal

OTTAWA, ON, Aug. 14, 2020 /CNW Telbec/ - Canada's two largest airlines and two largest airports today welcomed Transport Canada's long-awaited Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19 as a major step forward in restarting Canada's air travel industry by confirming the country's biosafety standards. The document is a clear endorsement of biosafety programs already put in place by Air Canada, WestJet, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and the Vancouver Airport Authority.

Flight Plan contains international, proven best practices for proactively protecting air travellers at all stages of the journey and provides the framework for restarting the aviation sector in Canada. It encompasses such measures as health checks, face coverings, touchless technology and cleaning protocols, all of which are in effect at Air Canada, WestJet, Toronto Pearson and YVR. Moreover, it outlines potential future enhancements, many of which the organizations are already working to adopt.

"By aligning the Canadian aviation sector with best international practices for customer health and safety, the Government of Canada has now established the necessary science-based preconditions that assure customers of the highest levels of safety for air travel and for reopening Canadian aviation across provinces and to the world," said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive of Air Canada. "Our Air Canada CleanCare+ program encompasses the measures recommended in Flight Plan and, as part of our evolving layered approach to biosafety, we remain committed to working with governments and other stakeholders to continue strengthening biosafety for all travellers. This is an important step to enabling business and the economy to safely restart alongside COVID-19, particularly the airline industry, which is a key economic driver."

"Safety has always been above all at WestJet and we welcome the implementation of Flight Plan," said Ed Sims, The WestJet Group President and CEO. "We remain committed to working with the Government of Canada to ensure all protocols are consistent with the best practices and advice available to us from around the world."

"Flight Plan represents the commitment of Canada's aviation industry and Transport Canada to introduce innovative programs and policies that prioritize the health and well-being of airport workers and passengers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Deborah Flint, President and CEO, Greater Toronto Airports Authority. "For our part, Toronto Pearson has worked collaboratively with public health officials, government and industry partners since the very beginning of the pandemic, culminating in the June launch of our Healthy Airport Commitment. From innovative solutions like a disinfection corridor, real-time air quality monitoring, UV light disinfection and autonomous floor cleaners to the fundamentals such as enhanced cleaning and the installation of hundreds of plexiglass barriers throughout the airport, passengers will see that health and safety is front and centre at Toronto Pearson and touches essentially every aspect of their journeys."

"We applaud the work of Transport Canada's Flight Plan and the biosafety standards set out to protect travellers at every step of the journey," said Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority. "We're pleased to see how this aligns with many programs already underway in our industry to ensure passenger health and safety in response to COVID-19. Similar to our partners across the Canadian aviation sector, we launched YVR TAKEcare, a multi-layered operational program and health and safety campaign, to create a safe and frictionless airport experience for airport employees and those who need to travel. YVR TAKEcare places industry-leading health, safety and cleaning practices and protocols at the forefront of airport processes and includes collaboration with many of our airport partners."

The four entities will continue to work with the Government of Canada to ensure that the aviation transportation sector can safely advance and continue its critical role in the country's economic recovery.

About Air Canada
Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic and international airline. Canada's flag carrier is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and in 2019 served over 51 million customers. Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world's most comprehensive air transportation network. Air Canada is the only international network carrier in North America to receive a Four-Star ranking according to independent U.K. research firm Skytrax, which also named Air Canada the 2019 Best Airline in North America. For more information, please visit: aircanada.com/media, follow @AirCanada on Twitter and LinkedIn, and join Air Canada on Facebook.          

About WestJet 
WestJet and WestJet Encore continue to connect all 39 of the airline's domestic airports, with a reduced frequency, to ensure essential travel, trade and cargo can continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, WestJet has maintained its status as one of the top-10 on-time airlines in North America as named by Cirium.

For more information about everything WestJet, please visit westjet.com

Connect with WestJet on Facebook at facebook.com/westjet 
Follow WestJet on Twitter at twitter.com/westjet 
Follow WestJet on Instagram instagram.com/westjet/ 
Subscribe to WestJet on YouTube at youtube.com/westjet 
Read the WestJet blog at blog.westjet.com

Recent recognition includes: 
2019/2018/2017 Best Airline in Canada (TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards for Airlines) 
2019 Winner Among Mid-Sized Airlines in North America (TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards for Airlines)
2019 Number-One Ranked Canadian Airline Loyalty Program in Member Engagement (Bond Brand Loyalty) 
2019/2018 Number-One-Ranked Airline Credit Card in Canada (Rewards Canada) 

About the Greater Toronto Airports Authority
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Toronto Pearson International Airport. Toronto Pearson served more than 50 million passengers in 2019, making it Canada's busiest airport.

For more information, please visit Toronto Pearson on Twitter (English and French), Facebook or Instagram.

About Vancouver Airport Authority
Vancouver Airport Authority is a community-based, not-for-profit organization that manages Vancouver International Airport (YVR). We are committed to creating an airport that British Columbia can be proud of: a premier global gateway, local economic generator and community contributor. More at www.yvr.ca.

SOURCE Air Canada

For further information: Air Canada Media Relations: media@aircanada.ca; WestJet Media Relations: Media@westjet.com; GTAA Media Office: media.relations@gtaa.com | (416) 776-3709; YVR Media Relations: Media_Relations@yvr.ca | (604) 880-9815

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Organization Profile


Air Canada

Air Canada is Canada's largest airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. transborder market and in the international market to and from Canada. Air Canada together with its Air Canada Express regional partners...

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From their WebSite:https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html


Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated Aug. 21, 2020
Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

You can get COVID-19 during your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to others. You and your travel companions (including children) may spread COVID-19 to other people including your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.

Don’t travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Before You Travel

Before you travel, consider the following:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading at your destination?
    The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return.
  • Do you live with someone who might be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19?
    If you get infected while traveling, you can spread the virus to loved ones when you return, even if you don’t have symptoms.
  • Are you at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19?
    Anyone can get very ill from the virus that causes COVID-19, but older adults and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Does your destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers?
    Some state, local, and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring people to wear masks and requiring those who recently traveled to stay home for up to 14 days. Check state, territorial, tribal and local public health websites for information before you travel. If you are traveling internationally, check the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.

If You Travel

During your trip, take steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Traveling Abroad? Check CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination before planning your trip.

Considerations for Types of Travel

Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Your chances of getting COVID-19 while traveling also depend on whether you and those around you take steps to protect yourself and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people outside your household (social distancing). Airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.

Air travel

Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Also consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.

Bus or train travel

Traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others, which may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. If you choose to travel by bus or train, learn what you can do to protect yourself on public transportation.

Car travel

Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently-touched surfaces.

RV travel

You may have to stop less often for food or bathroom breaks, but RV travel usually means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others.

Learn more about how to protect yourself from COVID-19 on different types of transportation

Know When to Delay your Travel to Avoid Spreading COVID-19

People who are sick, have recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 should delay travel. Learn when and for how long to delay travel to avoid spreading COVID-19.

How Are Companies Protecting Customers from COVID-19?

When planning travel, you may want to check companies’ websites to see what they are doing to protect customers from COVID-19. Things to look for include:

  • Requiring people to wear a mask
  • Promoting social distancing
  • Using online or contactless reservations and check-in
  • Using contactless payment
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures

Tips to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 in common travel situations:

In public:

  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.

Bathrooms and rest stops:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and after you have been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Getting gas:

  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons at the gas pumps before you touch them (if available).
  • After fueling, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you get to your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hotels and accommodations:

Food stops:

Anticipate Your Travel Needs

  • Bring a mask to wear in public places.
  • Pack hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep this within reach.
  • Bring enough of your medicine to last you for the entire trip.
  • Pack food and water in case restaurants and stores are closed, or if drive-through, take-out, and outdoor-dining options aren’t available.
  • If you are considering cleaning your travel lodgings, see CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect.

Check Travel Restrictions

State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Follow state, local, and territorial travel restrictions. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state, territorial, tribal and local health department where you are, along your route, and where you are going. Prepare to be flexible during your trip as restrictions and policies may change during your travel.

If traveling internationally or across international borders, check with the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine. Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled.

After You Travel

You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without symptoms and spread the virus to others. You and your travel companions (including children) pose a risk to your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus. Regardless of where you traveled or what you did during your trip, take these actions to protect others from getting sick after you return:

  • When around others, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.

Follow state, territorial, tribal and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

Higher Risk Activities

Some types of travel and activities can put you at higher risk for exposure to COVID-19 (see list below).  If you participated in higher risk activities or think that you may have been exposed before or during your trip, take extra precautions (in addition the ones listed above) to protect others for 14 days after you arrive:

What activities are considered higher risk?

Here are examples of activities and situations that can increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19:

  • Being in an area that is experiencing high levels of COVID-19 spread. You can check the levels for places you traveled, including countries as well as U.S. states, territories, counties, and cities.
  • Going to a large social gathering like a wedding, funeral, or party.
  • Attending a mass gathering like a sporting event, concert, or parade.
  • Being in crowds — for example, in restaurants, bars, airports, bus and train stations, or movie theaters.
  • Traveling on a cruise ship or river boat.

If you know that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, postpone further travel. If you get any symptoms of COVID-19, see What to Do If You Are Sick.

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Lufthansa requiring negative coronavirus test to fly without a mask

'This ensures maximum safety for the passengers travelling with them,' the airline said

Association of Flight Attendants president on airlines’ strict mask policies

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, joins Neil Cavuto on ‘Your World.’

No mask? No problem – with exceptions.


Lufthansa is now requiring passengers who claim they cannot wear a facial covering for medical reasons to provide a negative coronavirus test, as well as a doctor’s note, in order to fly without a mask.

The German airline group announced the news earlier this week in an update that will take effect Sept. 1.

Lufthansa is now requiring passengers who claim they cannot wear a facial covering for medical reasons to provide a negative coronavirus test, as well as a doctor’s note, in order to fly without a mask. (iStock)


Previously, the group’s carriers, which include Lufthansa German Airlines, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, had allowed in-flight mask exemptions with just proof of a medical certificate for verification. The certificate, which requires a doctor's signature, says the passenger cannot wear a mask "due to an underlying medical condition" but is still fit to fly.


Now, passengers must also provide a negative PCR test for COVID-19, taken within 48 hours of departure.

"This ensures maximum safety for the passengers travelling with them," Lufthansa said in a statement of the new rule.

Lufthansa’s member airlines have required masks in the high skies since early May, the conglomerate said, touting its group as one of the first in the world to do so.


While all customers and cabin crew are required to wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose on board, children under the age of 6 are exempted from doing so, per carrier group policy.

Lufthansa further stressed that its member carriers follow "extensive hygiene measures" both in flight and on the ground, working with the European Aviation Safety Agency, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and other national authorities to develop and enforce the highest health standards in commercial air travel as the pandemic continues.


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Canada extends COVID-19 restrictions on international travel until Sept. 30

Published Friday, August 28, 2020 3:25PM EDT


OTTAWA -- The federal government is extending travel restrictions by one month to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday on Twitter that existing restrictions on international travel to Canada would be extended to Sept. 30.

Blair says Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are returning home to Canada will continue to be subjected to strict quarantine measures.

Travellers coming to Canada will still be asked whether they have a cough, fever or are having difficulty breathing.

New arrivals are required to quarantine for 14 days if they don't have symptoms, or isolate for 14 days if they do.

Canada has taken steps to stem the flow of foreign nationals into the country by restricting discretionary travel, including for tourism, recreation and entertainment.

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30 minutes ago, Specs said:

What's the difference between quarantining for 14 days and isolating for 14 days?


  • The terms quarantine and isolation are both used in public health.
  • Quarantine is when people are kept separate from others due to having been in contact with ill people or having been exposed to infection.
  • People are not actively ill or showing symptoms when they first enter quarantine.
  • In isolation, individuals are ill with symptoms, the severity of which influences where they isolate, whether in hospital or at home.
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  • 3 weeks later...

Canada-U.S. border closure extended to Oct. 21

Published Friday, September 18, 2020 11:25AM EDTLast Updated Friday, September 18, 2020 12:32PM EDT



OTTAWA -- The partial closure of Canada's border with the United States is being extended another month, to Oct. 21, both countries announced Friday.

Crossings of the border have been largely restricted to trade goods, essential workers and citizens returning home since March, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and his American counterpart, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, each tweeted the latest one-month extension of the closure agreement.

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How Canada’s Aviation Sector Is Placed Amid the Pandemic

Vineet Kulkarni | September 22, 2020 | More on: AC TRZ

Plane on runway Image source: Getty Images.

It’s been more than six months now that Canadian airlines are operating with trivial capacities amid the virus outbreak. As aviation is a capital-intensive business, all airline companies worldwide are burning a sizable amount of cash every day. It will be important to see how Canadian airlines emerge from the crisis given some of the world’s stringent travel restrictions.

Canadian aviation sector and stringent travel restrictions

The aviation sector in Canada supports more than 600,000 jobs and contributes approximately 3% to the GDP. Despite collective voices from the Canadian airlines to ease travel curbs, authorities have continued to extend them. It is expected that these travel restrictions could result in around $20 billion of lost revenues in 2020. This will likely leave the industry with fewer players after the crisis.

The pandemic has dented the global air travel demand by multiple times compared to that of the 2008 financial crisis. Canadian airlines, in particular, have not received any sector-specific federal financial aid so far. However, their U.S. counterparts and some air carriers in Europe as well have received sizable support from the respective governments. Many Canadian airlines fear of cutting more than half of the workforce in the absence of government aid.

The country’s biggest airline Air Canada (TSX:AC) carried just 5% of passengers in the second quarter of 2020 compared to Q2 2019. It has lost nearly $3 billion so far in the first half of 2020. Notably, Air Canada has the scale and comparatively more avenues to raise capital than what smaller airlines like Transat AT (TSX:TRZ) has. A prolonged crisis will make such smaller carriers more vulnerable. Transat reported a 99% decline in Q2 revenues amid the pandemic-driven travel curbs.

What airlines could do amid the pandemic

It is going to be important for airlines to keep operating amid the outbreak until the vaccine reaches a large portion of the global population. Air Canada has started with testing at the airports and offers insurance packages specially dedicated to COVID. An unlimited flight pass at a fixed fee from Air Canada is a welcome move. How flyers respond to it remains to be seen. We might get to see more of such schemes to woo flyers.

Also, passenger carriers can consider lowering airfares to encourage flyers when travel restrictions ease. It will not be easy, particularly for smaller and more vulnerable players, given the steep revenue loss already. However, attractive pricing could play a vital role if airlines want to see pent-up demand in the holiday season.

The shares of the Canadian airline companies are still notably down this year. While Canadian broader markets are up more than 40% since March, airline stocks have sported no signs of a concrete recovery. Stocks like Air Canada and Transat are still trading 70% lower to their pre-pandemic levels.

In terms of recovery in the Canadian aviation sector, easing travel restrictions will play a key role. It is even more challenging for airlines to gauge the returning demand amid the ongoing travel restrictions. As Air Canada and peer airlines are demanding, there should be a science-based approach instead of an outright travel ban and mandatory quarantine. Once airlines start operations, even if they remain low at first, it will lower the cash burn rate and significantly ease their financial burden.

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  • 1 month later...

Rapid testing identifies 70 per cent of COVID-19 positive passengers within 48 hours of arriving at airport: study

Avis Favaro, Elizabeth St. Philip, Alexandra Mae Jones
Solarina Ho

Solarina HoCTVNews.ca Writer

@shtweet Contact

Avis Favaro, Medical Correspondent

Avis FavaroMedical Correspondent, CTV National News

@ctv_avisfavaro Contact

Published Tuesday, November 17, 2020 8:53AM ESTLast Updated Tuesday, November 17, 2020 9:50AM EST

TORONTO -- The interim results from a Canadian border study has found that 70 per cent of international travellers arriving by airplane who have COVID-19 can be identified within 48 hours through rapid testing done the moment they arrive.

A very small percentage of travellers only tested positive for COVID-19 a full 14 days after arriving, with just under 30 per cent testing positive after seven days.

"We wanted to look at what the risk of travellers coming into Canada bringing COVID is," Vivek Goel, a professor with the University of Toronto and one of the study's principal investigators, told CTV News.

"We tested people on arrival, day seven and day 14. So as far as we know we're the only group to have data of this size -- over 10,000 travellers -- who have been tested at all three time points, and we can then determine if you reduce the quarantine with a test protocol, how many cases you might miss if you were to allow people out [of quarantine], say after seven days or after one day."

The study, run by McMaster Health Labs (MHL), was first launched in September at Pearson Airport in Toronto and continued until Nov. 14. Passengers arriving on Air Canada or select Star Alliance flights were asked if they were willing to participate in a study that involved taking a test at the airport, and then two follow-up tests at home a week and two weeks later, while they were in the mandatory two-week quarantine.

Although the final report will be based on more than 16,000 participants, the interim results track the first month of the study, from Sept. 3 to Oct. 2, and involve more than 8,600 participants.

These results found that 99 per cent of participants tested negative for COVID-19. Of the one per cent who tested positive, 70 per cent tested positive after their very first test, and knew within 48 hours.

"A very small fraction are left and detected on day 14," Goel said. He said these individuals could be falsely positive or be residual cases who are not actually infectious, or could have failed to comply with quarantine and thus have caught COVID prior to leaving the airport.

"Or they could truly be people with the very long tail of the incubation period," he said. "But the key finding is that [a] testing strategy, particularly one that picks people up on day one, and day seven like Calgary is doing, will get the vast majority of people [who] are likely infectious."

Since the beginning of November, a pilot project being run through the Calgary International Airport has been offering rapid tests at the airports. The project gives travellers the option to get a test and isolate for 24 to 48 hours while waiting for their results. If they test negative, they do not need to self-isolate for the full two weeks, as long as they agree to stay within the province for that time period.

Goel pointed out that there are precautions in the Calgary pilot project.

"People are checked in every day by the local public health authorities, they're asked not to go to congregate living settings or visit peoples that are vulnerable to higher risk, but they're not asked to restrict themselves for 14 days either."

Many countries test people before they board an airplane in the first place, and some require tests upon landing, Dr. Marek Smieja, MHL scientific director and co-author of the study, told CTV News.

In Canada, there's no requirement for testing before getting on an airplane, and outside of pilot projects, no tests offered after you come off of one, Smieja said.

"Increasingly, especially for international flights there's an interest in screening people before they get on an airplane," he said. "And secondly, there's interest in asking, ‘Can quarantine be shortened if the testing shows that you have not developed COVID by perhaps seven days?'

"Our quarantine is 14 days and that's based on the maximum incubation time for COVID. Therefore we wanted to study it throughout the 14 days to ask the question, ‘Do we really need a full 14 days of quarantine?'"

International travel was how COVID-19 first entered Canada, but at this stage in the pandemic, most of the viral transmission is within the country. But that doesn't make it any less important to understand the risks of international travel and reopening the borders.

As Canada faces a second wave of COVID-19, nine months into the pandemic, the pressure to allow more travel builds for policy makers and officials.

"We can't not have any travel for prolonged periods of time, so it's a matter of trying to find how can we safely live with COVID for some period of time," Smieja said.

The two-week quarantine is a huge deterrent against traveling Goel said, adding that there are "economic, social and psychological coast from having to be in the quarantine."

Smieja pointed out that many two-week quarantine also can interfere with work for many.

"The ultimate message is that there are ways of reducing the quarantine requirement with testing protocols," Goel said.

The final report for the study will be available in January 2021.


The study also proved the feasibility of using rapid testing in an airport setting, researchers say.

The study used a cheek and nasal swab that could be self-administered, meaning that, crucially, a healthcare worker was not needed and people could take the test at home, which they did on day seven and day 14 of the study.

"We had a courier go and pick it up from them," Goel explained. "So it shows that people can do self-collection, and we can get it done at the home."

Smieja said that the tests were processed in a laboratory after being retrieved, and "only about one to two per thousand were very low quality where we couldn't interpret it," showing the majority of people were able to follow the instructions to do the tests at home.

Goel pointed out that needing a healthcare worker to administer tests is part of the reason big lineups have been seen at testing facilities.

"Then those health care workers that are doing more testing at the assessment centres are being taken away from other parts of the healthcare system, and that PPE is being taken away," Goel added.

Testing is hugely important, and the testing capacity in Canada needs to be increased if we want to ever get control of COVID-19 again, Goel said.

"We should have more testing for health-care workers, should have more testing for grocery store workers and people on the front lines."

He said researchers believe that the rapid testing capable of being performed at home could be used in schools and workplace setting, for "surveillance testing."

If a person is displaying symptoms, it makes more sense for them to go to a healthcare worker to receive the standard test, he explained, but if we were able to test in other settings on a more efficient basis in order to find cases before people even suspect they have the virus, that could help reduce wait times for tests at hospitals, and also free up staff.

"If we'd have [had] more testing capacity in place back in late August, we would have not been, [where] we're at now," Goel said. "So what I would say is if -- when -- we come out of this next wave, we really have to think about building up testing capacity so we don't get back here. And then we'll have testing capacity to open up the border when we're ready.

"A number of provinces including Ontario [have] been experimenting with alternative selection methodologies," Goel said, adding that he's "hopeful" this type of testing could be used more in the future.

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Lufthansa Group to Be First to Implement Star Alliance Biometrics and Usher In a Touchless Customer Experience at Airports

  • Frankfurt and Munich Airport Collaborate to Enhance the Travel Experience
  • Lufthansa and SWISS Miles & More Members First to Receive Enrolment Capability

Frankfurt and Munich, Germany – November 17, 2020 – Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, has completed development of an interoperable biometric identity and identification platform that will significantly improve the travel experience for frequent flyer programme customers of Star Alliance member airlines.

The Star Alliance Biometrics platform advances the vision of Star Alliance member airlines of delivering a seamless customer journey, while strengthening loyalty value proposition within its travel ecosystem.

Lufthansa Group (LHG) airlines, Lufthansa (a founding member of Star Alliance) and SWISS will be the first to use Star Alliance Biometrics for selected flights starting in November. Specific infrastructure is being installed at hub airports Frankfurt and Munich, reaping operational benefits at both locations.

Members of the Lufthansa and SWISS Miles & More Frequent Flyer Program who opt-in to biometrics will be able to pass through both security access and boarding gates in a touchless manner, an important health and hygiene safety measure in times of COVID-19.

In keeping with the requirement to wear masks in the airport terminal, it is not required to remove the mask for the biometric identity check. The identification process works for passengers wearing masks.

The Star Alliance Biometrics service is built upon NEC Corporation’s NEC  I:Delight biometric and identity management platform software. The secure service is available at no cost to customers of the Miles & More program who have consented to share their biometric data with stakeholders of their choice during travel.

How does enrolment work?

Effective immediately, and with a few easy steps on their mobile device, Miles & More customers will have the option to enrol in Star Alliance Biometrics, accessed via a link within the Lufthansa app. Customers enrolling are asked to take a selfie, verify their identity with their passport, and opt-in to the airlines and airports where they want to use the service.

Enrol once, use often

They only need to enrol once and can then use their biometrics data multiple times at biometrics touchpoints of any participating airport whenever they travel with a Star Alliance member airline who has implemented Star Alliance Biometrics.

Data privacy and security

Personal data, such as photo and other identification details, are encrypted and safely stored within the platform. From the outset, the system has been designed in compliance with applicable data protection laws making use of the latest facial recognition technology. Storage of personal data is kept to a minimum – for example, no customer names are stored.

A list of Frequently Asked Questions can be found HERE.

Jeffrey Goh, CEO of Star Alliance stated: “We are exceedingly proud to have founding member Lufthansa as the first airline to implement the Star Alliance Biometrics solution in both of its Frankfurt and Munich Airport hubs. This is a customer-centric solution that furthers our credentials in innovation, particularly its multi-airline and multi-airport capability. Whilst it offers a seamless customer travel experience, it is also a critical development that addresses the expectation of customers for a more touchless and hygienically safer experience. Star Alliance Biometrics is a key part of our strategy to be the most digitally advanced global airline alliance.”

Christina Foerster, Member of the Board, Customer, IT & Corporate Responsibility, said “The topic of biometrics will become increasingly important when travelling in the future. Especially during the pandemic, such touchless processes at the airport are a big plus. In the Lufthansa Group, biometric technology and solutions will increasingly ensure simplified and more efficient processes at airports, thereby significantly improving the travel experience of our passengers. I am very pleased that with Star Alliance Biometrics we will be able to offer interested frequent flyers biometric security checkpoint access and boarding via facial recognition at our Frankfurt and Munich hubs as from November. This is an important milestone for us.”

“Optimizing travel processes for passengers is our top priority at Frankfurt Airport, and biometric processes offer our customers numerous advantages. Star Alliance Biometrics now creates a more efficient and – especially important in today’s times – touchless passenger journey, which offers greater security as well as more comfort and less waiting time. We are proud to be one of the first airports worldwide to offer this pioneering technology for boarding pass control and individual gates in Terminal 1 – Area A, together with our most important customers Star Alliance and Lufthansa. In the coming weeks and months we will gradually expand the range – also to new process points such as baggage drop-off,” says Dr. Pierre Dominique Prümm, Board Member Aviation and Infrastructure at Fraport AG.

“Biometrics offers us the opportunity to further accelerate and simplify processes at Munich Airport for the benefit of travelers”, said Jost Lammers, CEO of Munich Airport. “This not only increases passenger comfort, but also – thanks to the contactless process – hygiene standards and health protection. In this way, we are once again fulfilling our promise of quality as the only 5-star-airport in Europe.” 

About Star Alliance

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