Safety

Government issues first fines for not wearing a mask on a plane

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Two people received fines of $1,000 each for refusing to wear a mask on two Westjet flights

A Westjet 737-800 touches down at Vancouver International Airport in August 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Two people have received Canada’s first fines because they refused to wear a mask on their flights.

“In both incidents, the individuals were directed repeatedly by the air crew to wear their face coverings during the flights and in both cases, the individuals refused,” Transport Canada said announcing the penalties.

Authorities have fined one person on a flight from Waterloo to Calgary on June 14 and another on a flight from Vancouver to Calgary July 7.

Passengers must wear masks in airports and on planes whenever they can’t maintain two metre physical distancing. There are exemptions for eating, drinking, and taking oral medications. Transport Canada says masks help prevent the spread of infectious droplets.

Other measures include temperature checks and health questionnaires to weed out potentially infectious passengers.

The fines are part of a trend toward less tolerance for health and safety risks during the pandemic.

At the beginning of the month, Westjet introduced its own zero-tolerance mask policy. The airline threatened to ban anyone refusing to put on a mask for a year. “Travellers must understand if they choose to not wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly our airlines,” Westjet chief executive Ed Sims said at the time.

Airlines and airports are trying to reassure passengers, nervous about the prospect of spending hours next to strangers during a pandemic.

A more scientific approach

Canada’s airlines are lobbying Ottawa to take a more scientific approach to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Air Canada has been hit particularly hard by border closures and quarantines. The airline has made hundreds of millions of dollars because of its international strategy. The airline’s route structure was decimated when Canada closed its borders to most non-citizens.

This week, Air Canada announced its participation in a study of international travellers arriving in Toronto. Passengers will be asked to provide a sample when they get off the plane, another seven days later, and a third after 14 days. The goal is to see how many people develop COVID-19 during Canada’s 14-day quarantine for international arrivals.

Westjet is partnering with Vancouver International Airport on a trial of its own. Sims revealed the plan in a blog post co-written by YVR chief executive Tamara Vrooman. They are preparing a pilot programme to test people for COVID before they get on a flight.