In light of recent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, airlines have mandated that passengers mask up prior to boarding.
On Apr. 20th, 2020, the Government of Canada issued a directive, which makes it mandatory for guests to wear protective face coverings throughout their travel journey, including at the airport and while in flight. Travellers will be required to have a protective face covering prior to CATSA security screening.
In Canada, there's a shortage of masks, especially N95 respirators and other surgical masks, and many Canadians are on the fence about wearing them, opting to donate them instead to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic who need them the most.
So, what happens if you don't have a mask when you arrive at the airport?
"Aviation passengers on all flights departing or arriving at Canadian airports must have in their possession a non-medical mask or face covering during the security screen checkpoint and during the identification process at the boarding gate or they will not be allowed into the restricted area of the airport or allowed to board the flight,"Alexandre Desjardins, senior communications advisor, media relations, Transport Canada, told PAX. "It is the traveller’s responsibility to bring the non-medical mask or face covering to the airport; the Canadian Air Transport Authority (CATSA) or airport operators are not required to provide travellers with non-medical masks or face coverings."
PAX spoke with several airlines to learn more.
Air Canada will require all customers to wear cloth coverings or masks over their mouth and nose while at check-in, during the boarding process and during flight on its aircraft.
Customers must bring their own face coverings which will be verified prior to boarding all Air Canada flights and prior to security screening at Canadian airports.
It is the customers’ responsibility to bring the proper face covering with them. Air Canada will not distribute masks to customers in order to ensure that critical medical masks are reserved for frontline workers. The coverings do not need to be medical masks - any face covering including a scarf or similar item is acceptable.
Air Canada specifies that travellers will need to wear their face covering at the gate, where they will be required to lower it for identification purposes on photo IDs, as required by Canadian regulations. While on board, customers are further required to wear their face covering at all times except to eat and drink.
This requirement will apply to all customers except for children under the age of six or customers who have a medical condition preventing them from wearing such a covering.
"It is a requirement to board and the customer response has been very positive. Customers must bring their own covering, as we noted critical medical-grade masks will continue to be strictly reserved for frontline workers," Peter Fitzpatrick, media spokesperson, Air Canada, told PAX. "Children under six are exempt from masks due to the size of the masks, and the difficulty in having a child younger than six keep it on."
On the company's COVID-19 FAQs page, Air Canada also states that "in cases where we have grounds to believe someone may be unfit to travel, we can also deny the customer boarding for their own well-being, and that of other customers and employees."
As of May 11th, 2020, Air France and KLM are making it compulsory for passengers to wear a mask throughout their travel journey. Air France says its customers will be notified prior to their departure and will be asked to ensure they possess one or more masks for their trip.
Both Air France and KLM reiterate that passengers are responsible for obtaining their own face masks, but there's some leniency.
"On Canada-Europe flights, if the person doesn’t have a mask, we will provide one, but, passengers now must wear one at the airport, which means that we are not their first point of contact," Diane Audet, communications manager, Air France KLM Canada, told PAX. "Scarves do not qualify."
All of Air France's crew are required to wear a mask aboard the flight.
In view of the changing nature of regulations and legislation, until further notice, face masks will remain compulsory on KLM and Air France until Aug. 31st, 2020.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, effective May 7th, Air Transat has temporarily suspended its flights until June 30th, 2020.
However, prior to that, on Apr. 1st, the company handed over all of the medical equipment at its disposal, which had, up until then, been dedicated to protecting its crews during its repatriation flights. This included 7,260 N95 masks, 36,800 surgical masks, and 301,000 gloves.
In accordance with regulatory requirements, Sunwing will be requiring all of its passengers to have non-medical face coverings in their possession prior to proceeding through security screening at all Canadian Airports.
Facial coverings are to be worn through the security screening process at the boarding gate and beyond including while on the aircraft.
"Although we are not currently operating fights, we have already begun implementing these protocols following the guidance of public health authorities and the Minister of Transport ‘s interim order," said Marie-Josée Carrière, senior marketing director, Quebec, Sunwing. "The health and safety of our employees and customers is paramount and over the next few weeks we plan to announce other preventative measures including sanitization and social distancing measures that follow best practices for cleanliness, safety and hygiene. We are also developing similar protocols for Sunwing Experiences , our ground transportation and excursion division in order to instill confidence with our customers that travellers are safe with Sunwing throughout their entire journey."
WestJet adopted the measures set forth by the Government on Apr. 20th, and reiterates that it is compulsory for both guests and cabin crew to wear a non-medical face mask or face covering while at the airport, and during flight.
In addition and per the directive, travellers will be required to show that they have a suitable face covering prior to boarding a WestJet flight. Guests will be asked to temporarily remove the mask while their identification is verified.
"As per our regulator, guests require this to travel, and if they do not have suitable face covering they are unable to board," clarified Morgan Bell, media spokesperson, WestJet. "We are not providing masks at this time."
If a guest does not have access to a surgical-grade face mask, a handmade mask will do, so long as it's made of at least two layers of tightly woven material (such as cotton or linen).
It also must be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping, and can be secured to the head by ties or ear loops.
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