MIAMI – Since March, both major Canadian carriers, Air Canada (AC) and WestJet (WS) have worked to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on board their aircraft by not selling the middle seat on all of their flights.

However, come July 1st, these policies will be scrapped and they will revert back to health recommendations from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The measures were in place to help passengers feel more comfortable on-board as well as limit any physical contact between passengers while flying.

Toronto – Vancouver (Air Canada Boeing 787-9)
Left: June 28 (note middle seat is unavailable) Right: July 1 (middle seat available) | Photo: Aaron Davis via

Lack of Distancing Could Pose Health Risks

Last month, the IATA deemed it safe for airlines to return to maximum capacity on board their flights. Though, this counters some measures still in place from the Canadian government.

Transport Canada listed physical distancing as a key measure to prevent the spread of the virus back in April. “Operators should develop guidance for spacing passengers aboard aircraft when possible to optimize social distancing,” says the document.

Tim Sly, an epidemiologist at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health said there are great potential risks of spreading COVID in airports and on-board airplanes. “Once it’s in the cabin, it’s difficult to stop air moving around,” he told CP24.

WestJet Boeing 737-8CT C-GVWA | Photo: Kaden Chang (IG: @kmacps91)

Flying is Still Safe

Air Canada describes air quality and cleanliness on board their planes as “hospital grade.” The HEPA Air Filters used on most planes effectively control airborne bacteria and viruses.

The threat instead comes through contracting the virus by physical contact while sitting next to a potentially infectious person.

In line with federal directives, AC and WS conduct pre-boarding temperature checks and require passengers to wear masks on board. Both airlines still extensively clean aircraft between flights and scaled back in-flight services.

Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner C-FVLU | Photo: Shon Fridman

Following recommendations amid a waiting game

Air Canada’s spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick says, “The new measures will continue to build on the recommendations of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and others that a multi-layered strategy to COVID-19 safety is most effective.”

Both airlines have seen a slow but steady rise in passenger numbers over the last few weeks as confidence returns to passengers and inter-province travel becomes less restricted.

Air Canada and WestJet have both taken blows to their passenger revenue since March. It seems they now hope that with increased seating availability, people will start flying again.