MONTREAL — While Air Canada is jettisoning the adjacent empty seat policy that saw it through the first few weeks of post-pandemic commercial flights, it is also ramping up bio-safety measures by offering flexible rebooking options to Economy Class customers on flights that are close to capacity, as well as introducing additional touchless processes at airports, and enhancing inflight service and amenities.
Airlines and industry groups including IATA have long argued that other health and safety protocols for COVID-19, like mandatory masks and improved air filtration, as well as mandatory pre-boarding temperature checks and screening, are collectively more effective than leaving adjacent or middle seats empty.
Flying with empty seats also puts a drag on revenue at a time when airlines, devastated by the coronavirus crisis and losing millions every day for the past several months, need to maximize revenue as much as possible.
“As we rebuild our schedule, we are continually increasing the range of products and services available to safely and efficiently enhance our customers’ travel experience,” says Andrew Yiu, Vice-President – Product at Air Canada. “As of July 1, we will be transparent about flights booked close to capacity in Economy Class and will provide rebooking options for customers booked on such flights. In addition, we are introducing industry-leading, streamlined, touchless airport processes such as TouchFree Bag Check and virtual queuing, and will be resuming meals designed by our Canadian chef culinary panel.”
He adds: “We continue to assess new bio-safety initiatives to further build on the multi-layered, bio-safety approach our best-in-class Air Canada CleanCare+ Program features to give customers confidence in a safe, secure, and enhanced travel experience with Air Canada.”
Air Canada is replacing its policy of guaranteeing adjacent seats in Economy Class are empty with a new transparent process offering flexible rebooking options for customers. The move takes effect July 1.
On flights where Economy Class is booked close to capacity, notification emails will be sent to Economy Class customers in advance of check-in and announcements will be made at the departure gate. Passengers will have the option to change to another flight operating within three days or to the next available flight without additional fees.
Air Canada has implemented TouchFree Bag Check, an industry-leading process for all domestic flights from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary airports, and is now expanding this process to other select Canadian airports, as well as for customers departing on international flights. See a demonstration here.
Air Canada also says that later in July, virtual queuing will also be introduced at primary Canadian airports to more efficiently manage wait times at select counters. Customers requiring service from an airport agent can scan their boarding card to enter a virtual queue and they will be notified via their smartphone to proceed to the counter for assistance.
Maple Leaf Lounges are expected to begin re-opening later this summer.
Also in late July, Air Canada will resume meal service planned by its panel of Canadian chefs in Air Canada Signature Class, and for the first time, will introduce chef-designed meals in Business Class – North America. Customers travelling on international flights in Economy Class will get an enhanced meal service.
Limited inflight food options in Economy Class onboard North American flights greater than two hours will be re-introduced on a pre-order basis. Customers will also be offered an expanded selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks according to cabin and route.
Air Canada launched its Air Canada CleanCare+ initiative in May. In addition to Air Canada CleanCare+ customer care kits containing hand sanitizer, a mask, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, water bottle, headphones and a snack, additional antibacterial wipes will be available as part of each meal service and in lavatories. Pillows and blankets will be offered again on all international flights and presented to customers wrapped and sealed.
WestJet has also announced that it will end its practice of keeping middle and adjacent seats empty, starting July 1.