WestJet is introducing stiffer penalties for passengers who refuse to wear face masks on flights.
Starting next week, the airline will implement a range of new safety measures that take aim at those who fail to comply with the airlines' mask regulations, including booting non-complying passengers off flights to even banning them from WestJet Group flights for up to 12 months.
Effective, September 1, 2020, the WestJet Group (WestJet, WestJet Encore, WestJet Link and Swoop) will implement a zero-tolerance policy in support of the requirement for all guests (over the age of two) to wear masks and face coverings.
WestJet indicated that it is fully prepared to return its aircraft to the gate to offload non-compliant guests, if need be.
"Canadian travellers and all of our WestJet Group employees are counting on us to keep them safe and it is our utmost priority to do so," said Ed Sims, The WestJet Group President and CEO, in a statement. "Masks are mandated by our regulator and the vast majority of our guests are happy to keep themselves and each other safe by complying. This enhanced policy provides clarity on how we will enforce the regulation for those who don't. Travellers must understand if they choose to not wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly our airlines."
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday (Aug. 27), Sims indicated that it’s WestJet’s hope to avoid extreme measures of ejecting non-compliant passengers, as it has been seen recently on some U.S.-based carriers.
"I have an obligation and a duty of care to our staff," Sims told CBC. "I also have an obligation to every other guest. So my focus is on the 99 per cent of guests who continue to wear masks."
WestJet's approach aligns with the position of The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which recently appealed to all travellers to wear a face covering for the safety of all passengers and crew during the COVID-19 pandemic – or face stiff penalties.
How will it be managed?
Non-compliance on board WestJet’s aircraft will be managed through three steps:
- Passengers will first be asked to put the mask on in a discussion with cabin crew.
- Passengers will be given a warning that masks are required, and compliance is necessary.
- Passengers will receive notice that non-compliance will result in follow up notification that they will be placed on a no-fly list for 12-months.
Since April 20, 2020, it has been mandatory for travellers to wear protective face coverings throughout their travel journey, including at the airport and while in flight and at the airport.
Prior to flying, it is important travellers understand the current regulations and modifications to services in response to COVID-19.
Travellers that wish to eat or drink while on board remain able to do so if they replace their mask once finished.
Contact tracing enhancements
Also starting September 1, the input of contact information for those travelling on WestJet, WestJet Encore, WestJet Link and Swoop will become mandatory at the 24-hour check-in process online and at kiosks.
Mandatory information at WestJet check-in kiosks will be phased into the policy change by the end of September.
Once implemented, guests will no longer be able to bypass the information screen and will be required to input up-to-date information prior to the issuance of a boarding pass.
It is the responsibility of the traveller to provide accurate information.
"We continue to work collaboratively with our health partners to adapt our procedures," stated Sims. "A coordinated approach is essential, and we are advocating for contact tracing enhancements along with the introduction of testing."
Chris Rauenbusch, President CUPE Local 4070, voiced his support for the new measures:
"CUPE is very pleased to see the further steps WestJet is taking to keep our members safe and empowered,” stated Rauenbusch. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the airline in reassuring all guests that air travel is truly safe."
By the numbers
Since March, the WestJet Group has been the only Canadian airline to provide full transparency in advising the public of flights affected by COVID-19, the company said.
Between March 23 and August 25, WestJet has flown more than 725,000 guests on 19,370 flights.
Of those, the airline has been notified of just over 230 flights where infected individuals have flown, this accounts for less than one per cent of flights.
Swoop has operated 1,070 flights with 103,000 travellers and has been notified of eight flights where infected individuals have flown, accounting for less than one per cent of flights.
There have been no reported cases of transmission on board any WestJet Group aircraft.
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline invested quickly in hygiene and safety measures to mitigate the risk throughout the entire travel journey, investing millions of dollars' worth of equipment, cleaning and additional measures to protect those who had to fly.
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