WestJet to remove unmasked passengers from flights and ban them for a year

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WestJet will take tough new action starting next week against passengers who refuse to comply with federal masking rules on flights.The airline says it will go just as far in avoiding passengers on flights who consistently refuse to wear a face mask or face mask on board.

“If the plane did not leave the gate and someone refused to wear a mask, we will return to the gate,” WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims said in an exclusive interview with CBC News.

Sims said in “extreme circumstances” – if passengers continue to ignore the masking rules – they will return the plane to its point of origin.

Transport Canada requires that all persons over the age of two wear a mask on all flights. A recent order added that only holders of an official doctor’s note are exempt from mandatory masking.

WestJet hopes to avoid the extreme measures to deport non-compliant passengers seen with increasing regularity on US carriers. “I have an obligation and a duty of care to our staff. I also have an obligation to all the other guests. So I’m focusing on the 99 percent of customers who continue to wear masks, ”Sims said.

Masked WestJet passengers line up to check-in at Calgary International Airport. (Colin Hall / CBC News)

Thus, on Friday morning, the airline will announce that as of September 1, 2020, it will implement a growing response to those who resist the use of masks:

  • The cabin crew will first ask you to put on the mask.
  • An official warning will be issued indicating that mask compliance is required.

If these two measures do not encourage passengers to wear a mask, there will be long-term penalties. Sims said those guests would be put on a one-year no-fly list. “We will inform passengers who deliberately do not comply with their intention not to fly. »

Air Canada says it generally does not publicly discuss security and law enforcement measures, but confirmed it has “a gradual approach, up to and including travel bans. , to promote compliance with face coating requirements ”.

Air Canada will only say that it has had a small number of incidents with passengers refusing to wear masks.

A young passenger wearing a mask at the Calgary airport. (Colin Hall / CBC News)

‘It’s not just one and it’s done’

WestJet says it has had 30 problems with passengers refusing to cover their faces. CEO Ed Sims said that number could increase. “We take this opportunity to say that it’s not just a question and it’s done. If you decide to be in non-compliance, you will pay that price for at least the next 12 months. ”

Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, said strict rules on masks on planes are needed because physical distancing is not possible. “We need to bring these other layers of protection, like wearing a mask to prevent droplets from spreading to people, not only near you, but maybe circulating the air and even reaching the distal rows. from the plane. ”

Ed Sims, President and CEO of WestJet, speaks during an interview in Vancouver. (CBC News)

Also beginning September 1, WestJet will require all passengers to provide their contact information when checking in, whether online or at the airport. Passengers will no longer be able to bypass this step.

The goal is to be able to provide health authorities with information allowing rapid contact tracing if a passenger on a flight test is positive for the coronavirus.

WestJet says it is working with Vancouver Airport and researchers to develop a pilot program in which passengers on certain flights will be tested for the coronavirus to determine if pre-flight testing can help reduce the spread.

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