Time for a cautious return to air travel

The world is emerging, slowly and carefully, from almost six months of pandemic-enforced isolation. Were expanding our bubbles – a phrase few of us would have understood only months ago – and seeing relatives wed dared not visit until just recently.

How open our communities depends on which province we live in – and beyond that which country or region. Travel between regions, and especially across international borders, remains limited.

Weve come to rely on Zoom, Webex, Stage 10 and other platforms few of us were familiar with before COVID-19. But technology can only take us so far when communicating with others. At some point, you just need to go there.

Going anywhere is obviously difficult these days, however, and action needs to be taken to ensure travel and tourism return.

Air travel was hit hard and fast by the pandemic as international and domestic travel ground to a halt.

Today, we need all levels of government to get behind developing a detailed plan for opening up the travel sector, and strong funding support for the industry.

To do otherwise will put at risk an industry that moves millions of Canadians across the country and around the world, and employs thousands.

The first priority needs to be passenger safety. There can be no air travel industry and no tourism and hospitality industries if passengers dont feel safe getting on a plane.

There are several measures that can be taken to achieve that, including passenger screening that includes rapid testing and temperature checks, masks, PPE, stringent and visible cleaning protocols and strict measures to limit contacts on and off aircraft.

We also know that not all jurisdictions are recovering at the same rate. As much as we look in horror at what is unfolding with our nearest neighbour to the south, parts of Europe are returning to the beach and gathering in cafes in ways that seemed unimaginable only recently.

Perhaps travel could return to places that have controlled the virus as much as we have, without needing to quarantine on return, including travel between provinces.

Blanket travel restrictions no longer make sense as parts of the world open up. Other countries are ready to accept Canadian travellers. If they can show that they have controlled the virus, travel should be allowed.

This is not to say that we should throw open the borders, of course. Travel restrictions to the U.S. continue to make sense. For other countries, there are several options that are worth exploring, including a negative COVID test before leaving and/or on return and safe travel corridors directly to other countries that have the virus under control.

Other countries are beginning to implement such measures, and Canada should follow suit. Automatic 14-day quarantines make no sense when we have science-based alternatives.

None of this will come cheap, and none of it can be fully absorbed by an industry that was already operating on tight margins before the pandemic. Government assistance will be needed.

Air travel was shut down as part of a public health emergency, which made sense, but at enormous cost to the airlines and the travellers and workers who rely on it. Reopening air travel is no less a public health concern – and a viable Canadian air industry is as much a vital part of our economic well-being as it has ever been.

Restoring the industry is a public must, and about much more than getting workers – including Unifor members – back on the job.

Its about enabling business people to make the trips they need to help ensure we build back our wider economy. Its about helping ordinary Canadians visit relatives abroad and reconnect with children and parents.

We all know the heartbreak of not being able to visit elderly relatives in long term care homes. Imagine not even being able to have a window visit for six months.

So much of our modern society has come to rely on relatively easy access to air travel.

While no one is saying we should return immediately to what we had back in March, we do need to begin the important work of rebuilding this industry – and we need to start now.