Opinion: I won’t be a COVID-19 guinea pig for reckless airlines

Transport Canada needs to toughen up and tell airlines to block the middle seat and give refunds instead of vouchers

I refuse to be a guinea pig during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why I cancelled an upcoming flight for a family visit that was planned long before we had heard of COVID-19.

All the experts are saying that flying is a risk for contracting the novel coronavirus, and I waited until the last minute to cancel because of hope things might improve or I’d get my money back.

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That wasn’t to be when Air Canada and Westjet announced they would no longer keep the middle seat open, and I’d only get a voucher not a refund if I cancelled.

Not long after, I read in the Tri-City News that COVID-19 exposure was likely on at least three domestic flights by the BC Centre for Disease Control, which is keeping track.

There is no way I’m sitting next to someone who could be asymptomatic but still have the coronavirus when as little as a few weeks ago I would have been protected by at least a seat-width of space.

If I wanted to put my immunity to the test and risk COVID-19, I would rather do so on Florida’s beaches rather than the grasslands of Alberta.

(Sorry auntie, I love you).

I get that airlines are suffering right now. I already cancelled a 25th anniversary trip to Hawaii that was to have taken place in May, so I know what it’s like to lose something important, such as money.

Yes, I’m tired of being treated like a second class citizen and given vouchers instead of a refund just because I had the forethought to plan ahead.

Now it seems at least the provincial NDP is sticking up for consumers, demanding that Transport Canada enforce physical distancing to keep passengers safe.

Planes sit on the tarmac at YVR.
Planes sit on the tarmac at YVR. - YVR/Facebook

True, Canadian airlines aren’t the only ones to remove the middle seat policy, U.S. airlines are doing the same and a bit of a battle is brewing over whether blocking middle seats is really just a PR strategy, not a safety move when people will still be sitting closer than two metres.

Still, maybe it’s the principle of the thing that causes me to be offended that major airlines are simply removing space between passengers. Airlines say temperature testing, HEPA air filters that purify the air, masks and sanitation are enough to curb viral spread.

This is hard to take when it’s been grilled into us for months that physical distancing is the first line of defence against COVID-19.

I’m also gobsmacked at how Air Canada and Westjet continue to promote flying, with constant offers of future travel at discounted rates streaming into my email in-box.

Who are they kidding?

No doubt Canadians will be asked to bail out the airlines in some form or another — and of course, with federal wage subsidies being paid — that is already the case.

But don’t ask me to prop them up with my own health — that I simply won’t do.

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