Air Transat has resumed commercial flights, launching a small schedule after a four-month suspension due to the pandemic.
The Montreal-based airline began flying three domestic and three transatlantic routes Thursday, with another 18 set to start by August, even as the Canadian government continues to advise people to avoid unnecessary travel to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Air Transat’s first international routes are Montreal-Toulouse, Montreal-Paris and Toronto-London. The three domestic flights are Montreal-Toronto, Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Vancouver.
France and the United Kingdom recently began allowing people to enter from a list of countries, including Canada. However, the U.K. requires Canadians to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. France has no such restrictions on Canadians.
On returning to Canada, however, travellers are required to self-quarantine for 14 days – to watch for COVID-19 symptoms and ensure they do not infect others.
“The entire Transat team, starting with our on-duty flight crews, is very pleased to return to action and to offer our passengers a restyled experience adapted to the situation,” the airline said in a news release. “The skies are slowly clearing and that is encouraging, but it in no way means that the crisis caused by COVID-19 is over.”
Christophe Hennebelle, a Transat spokesperson, said the U.K.‘s quarantine requirement for Canadians could be dropped on July 27. He said the airline will add several international routes in August, including destinations in France, Portugal, the U.K., Greece and Italy.
Demand for fares is “way lower” than usual, but some flights to France and Portugal are almost full, Mr. Hennebelle said by phone, declining to provide details. Where possible, passengers will be seated apart to encourage physical distancing, he said.
Canada’s travel and tourism industry is lobbying the federal and provincial governments to ease quarantine and travel restrictions, arguing the measures are delaying any economic recovery. They are assuring Canadians it is safe to fly, highlighting heightened efforts to clean planes, mandatory masks at airports and on board and health screening that includes temperature checks.
Public health officials say advisories against travel and gatherings are needed to slow the spread of the virus. Canada’s border with the U.S remains closed to non-essential travel, and most international visitors are barred entry, with some exceptions.
Air Canada, WestJet Airlines and Flair Airlines are operating small summer schedules, while Porter Airlines and Sunwing Airlines are grounded until Aug. 31.
The pandemic and resulting collapse in air travel demand has thrown into question the survival of many of the world’s airlines, and it is not clear if all Canadian carriers have the cash to survive until demand returns to normal. Air Canada, which has laid off 20,000 people, has said this will not happen for three years.
Transat AT, Air Transat’s parent company, employs 5,000 people and flies a fleet of about 40 planes. Air Canada’s $720-million takeover of Transat has been delayed by regulatory reviews in Canada and Europe.
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