Canada’s airline industry will soon mark a bleak anniversary – two years since the COVID-19 pandemic halted flights and economic growth. But there is optimism that clear skies are ahead for the sector.
That can’t come soon enough to YYC Calgary International Airport. It entered the pandemic with a record volume of passengers, but by 2020 it became a ghost town.
“It was really surreal,” Chris Miles, vice president of operations and infrastructure for the airport authority, told Global News.
“Actually, there was an eerie silence in the terminal buildings. At one point, our minimums were 200 to 300 outbound passengers, when on a normal day we would have 50,000 (or) 55,000 people here. “
The airport authority was forced to cut jobs and close entire sections of the airport.
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WestJet, Calgary-based airline He also went from flying high to flying with almost no one.
“In the whole system, we had about 40 flights a day,” the airline said.
Antonio Faiola, senior manager of guest experiences at WestJet, added that before the pandemic, the airline operated an average of 700 flights per day.
The airline also cut staffing levels and destinations, prompting a backlash from angry customers who fought for refunds in lieu of travel vouchers. He finally offered refunds to some travelers.
“One thing that is important to us is being financially sustainable during this pandemic and being able to come out of it stronger,” Faiola said.
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Coming out stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic was key for the entire airline industry, but it was soon realized that it would not be a quick or easy task.
“We went through 9/11, we went through financial crises, we went through SARS, but again, those were relatively short periods,” Miles said.
“With COVID (-19), there was a lot of apprehension (and) a lot of nerves because there wasn’t a lot of information.”
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New travel rules: masks and vaccination requirements
The lack of information kept many people grounded, but travel has improved since then. New figures released earlier this month by Statistics Canada showed 263,400 non-resident arrivals at Canadian airports in October, representing an increase of more than 14 times compared to the same period last year.
However, some travelers remain intimidated by all the travel rules and restrictions.
Travelers not only have to pack their bags (and passports if traveling out of the country), they now have to pack their masks as well.
“Wearing a mask is required when traveling,” Faiola said.
“It is also a requirement to wear a mask when you are on board an airplane. The only time you don’t have to wear a mask is when you eat. “
It is also a requirement to be fully vaccinated when flying to or through Canada. Unvaccinated travelers can have a molecular test, such as a PCR test, but as of November 30, anyone over the age of 12 must be fully vaccinated. Anyone flying out of the country also needs a molecular test to return, regardless of vaccination status, unless the trip is 72 hours or less.
The United States is also allowing fully vaccinated nonresidents in, but a viral or rapid antigen test is mandatory for all travelers.
International travelers are advised to check in advance as there are different rules for different countries.
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Greater safety when flying
the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) It has also made several changes to security controls. Acrylic barriers and full-body scanners have been installed and protectors are required to wear masks, face shields, and disposable gloves.
“They are really the same procedures that we have always had with some additional layers of security for both our inspectors and passengers,” CATSA’s Pierre Simard told Global News.
“We will not compromise with either one.”
Anyone coming to Canada will also see some changes when dealing with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“Travelers must present a ArriveCAN statement, ”said Lisa White of CBSA.
“ArriveCAN can be an application that you download to your smartphone or it can also be downloaded to your computer. ArriveCAN is where you send your quarantine plan, where you send your PCR tests (and) your vaccination records. “
White said infection prevention is key and some passengers may be asked to randomly test for COVID-19.
White doesn’t expect many delays as travel increases, but cautions there could be some.
“Our message to the people is that we are all in this together and let’s be patient,” he said. “There are many steps to follow.”
Getting ready for a bounce
Now that air travel is picking up again, airports and airlines have turned around again, and that can be a challenge.
“Growing back is much more difficult than reducing it,” Miles said.
YYC Calgary International has been busy reconnecting people and services to meet the new demand.
“In fact, we are reconnecting all the destinations within Canada that we did before 2019,” said Miles.
And while cross-border and international passenger numbers remain low, they have also risen from pandemic lows.
“We do (flights) once a day to certain destinations, whereas before COVID we probably did three or four (a day). But people are coming back and we are excited to have them back. “
WestJet is also excited, as flights have increased to just over 400 a day. He’s also been on a hiring spree.
“Just before the pandemic, we had 14,000 employees,” Faiola said. “And we are getting closer to having almost 9,000 again.”
The challenge for the airport and its partners now is to scale up several services closed due to the closure, a task officials say they are more than willing to take on.
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