What international flights are generating COVID warnings?


330 flights since have prompted COVID warnings from the Public Health Agency of Canada since December 20

Data suggest flights returning from holiday destinations prompt the most alerts

An Air France Boeing 777 departs Vancouver for Paris January 21, 2021. The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified COVID-infected passengers aboard seven AF flights since December 23 (Brett Ballah).

UPDATE: January 29 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s major carriers have agreed to suspend flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. All international arrivals will have to pass through Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal with mandatory testing on arrival.

Pressure is growing on the federal government to further restrict international flights into Canada to halt the spread of COVID.

“I can’t stress this enough,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Monday. “We have to test every person who comes into Pearson… we need to put barriers up any which way we can. I also encourage the prime minister, close down any travel coming into Canada outside of residents or citizens of Canada. There’s no reason we need people coming in. Up in Etobicoke North [the premier’s riding], we’re not far from the airport. And I see these planes flying in, one after the other, after the other. And every time I look up in the sky, I’m thinking how many cases are coming in?”

While Canadians have a Charter right to enter and leave the country, Canada bars most non-citizens or permanent residents from the country. The federal government also requires pre-flight COVID tests for Canada-bound passengers and people arriving in the country to quarantine for two weeks.

That said, we thought we’d take a look at what flights might be bringing the virus into the country.

The Public Health Agency of Canada publishes a list of flights where passengers may have been exposed to COVID. The list is constantly evolving and flights are identified for a maximum of two weeks. That’s enough time, say health authorities, to cover the incubation period of the virus.

Sources of international infections

Since December 20, PHAC has identified 330 international flights with potential COVID exposure. All but 24 were bound for Canada. Generally, warnings apply to specific rows, though in rare occasions either the person’s seat is unknown or the warning applies to all rows in a plane. In-flight COVID transmission is rare, but not unheard of.

The data show flights from the United States was the most common source of COVID warnings. Between December 20 and January 25, 90 transborder flights generated potential COVID exposure concerns. This is to be expected. In normal times, international air travel in Canada is heavily weighted to the U.S. There, the virus has been raging for months.

But dig deeper into the data, and a different story emerges. Many of the international warnings are generated by flights from destinations traditionally seen as holiday spots for Canadians escaping winter.

Origins of COVID warnings

The Public Health Agency of Canada publishes warnings about flights where one or more passengers has tested positive for COVID-19.

The map shows where flights originated with at least one passenger on board who tested positive between December 20 and January 24. The darker the colour, the more cases originated in that city.

Hover over or click on the city to see details. Please give the map a few seconds to load.

Cancun Mexico, which yesterday saw more than 10,000 new COVID infections, drew the most flight warnings. PHAC said passengers on 31 Canada-bound flights from Cancun may have been exposed to COVID since December 22. Other Canadian hotspot destinations, Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City, also generated significant COVID warnings. In all, 69 flights from Mexico drew advisories.

After Cancun, Amsterdam, a major European and global hub, drew the most exposure advisories, 15.

Thirty-three of the flights landed in Vancouver, 60 in Montreal, 82 in Calgary, and 128 in Toronto, where the provincial government has established an arrival testing facility.

International COVID flight advisories

London LHR7
Puerto Vallarta11
Punta Cana4
Cayo Coco2
Panama City4
Abu Dhabi3
Fort Lauderdale11
Puerto Plata4
San Francisco2
Palm Springs2
Los Cabos6
Mexico City13
Los Angeles5
Sao Paulo5
Fort Myers2
Las Vegas2
Addis Ababa4
San Salvador1
Kingston, Jamaica5
Montego Bay8
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, Potential Exposure to COVID-19, Dec. 20 - Jan. 24.
International flights that generated COVID exposure advisories from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Stricter travel measures now would be appropriate,” said a grouping of 11 mayors in the Toronto area. They met Monday, the anniversary of the first COVID cases appearing in Canada.

The prime minister has warned Canadians who have non-essential travel plans to cancel them.

While you’re here

Western Aviation News needs your help.

We’re an independent voice for and about Canadian aviation. We keep the site free to share our passion with the world.

We survive thanks to the support of readers like you.