Air Canada Is Promoting Travel To The United States

For about a month now, Air Canada’s customer service line has been automatically greeting callers with a pre-recorded message notifying them of the ability to travel to the United States. While many Canadians could be under the impression that only essential travel to the United States is permitted, the airline makes the situation clear when it comes to air travel. This message and the encouragement to travel to the United States stands in direct opposition to warnings and advisories issued by the Canadian government as well as countless provincial health officials.

Air Canada A320
The United States is a significant market for the airline and will be critical in its recovery. Photo: Air Canada

For leisure or business

Customers calling Air Canada’s customer service line will instantly hear the following message before being presented a menu of options for various customer services:

“Are you eager to reunite with friends and relatives in the U.S? Did you know that Canadians are permitted to travel by air to or from the U.S. for leisure or business? Review our step-by-step guide available on aircanada.com/travelguidelines to see what to expect while traveling.”

WestJet Air Canada Transat
Air Canada is approved to fly to 14 airports in the United States. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The message, playing as early as mid-July, makes clear that the United States’ policy for entry is much more open than Canada’s – which is something we’ve covered in a recent article on travel to the US.

Unfortunately, it’s common knowledge these days that the overall COVID-19 situation in the United States is far worse than Canada – as well as most other nations. To make the situation tenser, the government of Canada has explicitly warned against all international travel. Should the airline be falling in line with the government’s messaging? Is there a moral obligation in this situation?

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Messaging from the government of Canada

Visit the Canadian government’s website on travel and go to its advisories page. The first thing you’ll see in large, bold lettering is:

“Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”

Thus, Air Canada’s phone message alerting Canadians of the ability to fly to the United States for leisure, in particular, might be seen as going against the warnings issued by the government. Is the airline in the wrong here?

B787-8 Tail, Air Canada
Does Air Canada have a moral responsibility to refrain from promoting risky travel? Photo: Air Canada

Indeed, the advisory put out by the Canadian government is a blanket “global travel advisory,” making no distinction between countries.

What is the airline’s responsibility?

The reason that Air Canada’s phone message is causing such a stir is actually due to several reasons:

  1. On the technical side, it flies in the face of the government’s advisory against non-essential international travel, and
  2. Scientifically speaking, it encourages travel that is non-essential to a country amid its own precarious epidemiological situation.

The big question here is: Does it matter? 

The airline would obviously say ‘no.’ In fact, Air Canada believes that its whole suite of COVID-19 precautions is enough to ensure a safe journey for all of its passengers. Others would disagree:

“We’re in the time of a pandemic and that sort of undermines all the public health measures in place…So to have Canadians go down there for leisure purposes in the middle of a pandemic, it seems to be very unethical and I think that Air Canada really needs to look at what they’re doing.” -Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease and global health specialist at the University of Toronto via Global News

Without a doubt, Air Canada is deep in a fight for survival right now, and it would be hard to argue that anyone is getting rich by promoting transborder travel. Flying more travelers south of the border may indeed help it from cutting more jobs in the future. Another ‘devil’s advocate perspective’ is that it’s the responsibility of every traveler to assess whether their trips can be completed safely.

Indeed, this is a complicated issue – one that airlines aren’t used to facing. But what do you think?

Should Air Canada be promoting and informing customers of the ability to conduct leisure travel to a known coronavirus hotspot? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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