Calls For Feds Not Airlines To Implement Rapid Testing At Airports
Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor

COVID-19 has decimated the travel industry and without federal action, thousands of jobs will permanently disappear.

That’s according to a statement today by the union representing 10,000 flight attendants at Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge – and few industry observers would disagree.  CUPE wants the federal government to step in immediately to implement newly-approved, 15-minute COVID rapid tests at Canada’s airports. 

“We don’t know how long we’ll be living with the coronavirus,” said Wesley Lesosky, President of the Air Canada Component of CUPE. “But what we do know is that without rapid testing, it’s possible our industry and many others won’t ever recover.” 

Canada’s border with the United States remains closed. And Canadians who leave the country are still subject to a 14-day quarantine upon their return. These federal government measures have brought the Canadian travel industry to a standstill. 

Canada’s airlines have been leading the way as early adopters of  COVID testing as a path towards eliminating the requirements for returning Canadians to quarantine. Last month, both WestJet and Air Canada announced they were spearheading pilot projects testing airline passengers for COVID-19.  

But current tests can require days to receive results.  And there was no guarantee that federal government health officials would accept testing as a replacement for quarantining. 

Game Changer

On Wednesday, Health Canada approved a new, ‘rapid’ test for COVID-19 developed by Abbott Rapid Diagnostics, and the federal government announced plans to purchase nearly 8 million of them. 

Yesterday, Open Jaw reported that, just a day after their approval by Health Canada, Air Canada is ordering 25,000 of the 15-minute rapid tests.  But they are for voluntary employee testing.

On its part, WestJet, along with the Vancouver Airport Authority, announced a partnership with the University of British Columbia on a study to test and pilot real-time COVID-19 testing at YVR. The company says as part of the pilot, departing WestJet passengers will be asked to volunteer for a COVID-19 rapid test before boarding. 

Rapid Tests and a Return to Travel, Not Government Bailouts

But the Air Canada Component of CUPE is calling on the federal government – not individual airlines – to administer a comprehensive program of rapid testing at airports, which it says will make flying safer and save jobs in the airline industry. 

The union points out that, when it comes to saving the travel industry, a government bailout alone won’t help since it won’t make flying safer. 

So rather than support in the form of a bailout or other financial tools, it says implementing the new rapid tests in ‘real time’ testing of passengers prior to boarding would ensure safer flying for the public – and airline workers. And by implication, permit the current 14-day quarantine requirements to be lifted. 

“The Canadian economy relies on a strong airline industry, and it’s key to keeping communities and families connected,” said Lesosky. “People need to travel for work and families want to reunite, but they also want to know it’s safe to fly. Approving rapid 15-minute tests at the airport will help address both these problems and stimulate travel.” 

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