Canadian North ramps up coronavirus plan
“We must remain particularly vigilant to this situation”
(Updated at 2 p.m.)
Canadian North says it has put “proactive actions” in place to safeguard everyone within its care against the new coronavirus, COVID-19.
Actions by Canadian North include the suspension of blanket, pillow and hot-towel services on flights, the airline said in a notice on its website on Wednesday, March 11.
If a passenger becomes ill while on an aircraft, flight crews will know how to assess the situation and provide the appropriate assistance, while minimizing exposure to other passengers, “just like they would during any other circumstances,” Canadian North said.
Crew members also have access to real-time medical support and can request that first responders meet the aircraft upon arrival, “while ensuring that public health authorities are immediately informed of the situation,” Canadian North said.
On Wednesday, March 11, those new precautions against COVID-19 were tested when a crew member on a Canadian North charter flight to a mine site in Alberta reported being in contact with someone who later tested positive for coronavirus.
“The crew member was made aware of the person’s positive test result only after they had operated a flight for one of our Alberta charter clients,” said Dan Valin, the airline’s communications manager, in an emailed statement.
“We are taking this situation very seriously and were immediately in contact with the public health authority.”
The crew who operated the flight is now being self-isolated.
“The risk level has been assessed by the public health authority as very low for passengers and crew but we will err with an abundance of caution in all measures,” Valin said.
As long as the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to classify the risk to Canadians from the virus as “low,” Canadian North said it plans to maintain normal operations, a message repeated by Valin in his statement.
The health agency’s website has said this “low” classification, which remained in place as of the morning of Thursday, March 12, could “change rapidly.”
“We are fully aware that we provide essential services to the people, communities and organizations that depend on us so we must remain particularly vigilant to this situation,” Canadian North said.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11. That means the virus’s spread is international.
For now, Canadian North is doing the following:
- Monitoring updates from the WHO, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Revising its in-flight procedures, which includes the suspension of blanket, pillow and hot towel services, wiping down all galley surfaces with antiseptic wipes before and after each meal service, and the use of sanitary gloves by flight attendants when handling garbage and other used items.
- Increasing aircraft cabin cleaning processes, such as the regular disinfection of commonly touched surfaces such as tray tables, seat armrests and headrests, seatbelt buckles, overhead lighting and ventilation controls, door latches on overhead luggage bins and lavatory door handles and fixtures.
Canadian North said it uses Oxivir wipes on all of its aircraft and that this is an approved disinfectant product that is effective against this virus strain and other pathogens.
The airline said its facilities and base management teams are taking similar steps to ensure that counters and offices are thoroughly cleaned with disinfecting solutions each day, and that locations are stocked with soap, paper towels and cleaning materials.
Employees have been encouraged to, among other recommended preventive actions, wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Canadian North has also instituted temporary change and cancellation policies for international travellers for travel on Canadian North flights on or before March 31, which allow them to change their travel dates or cancel their travel for a credit voucher.
Canadian North said it would also revise its business continuity plan “so that we are prepared for any possible developments that would require us to adjust our operations while continuing to maintain the essential flow of passengers and materials to all of our locations.”
This includes identifying key operational personnel and coverage, making sure administrative team members can work from home if necessary, and ensuring contingency plans are in place to temporarily adjust schedules.
Even as the risk level remains rated as “low” for COVID-19 in Canada, the coronavirus is sure to affect Canadian North financially. The recent cancellation of the Arctic Winter Games and the Nunavut Mining Symposium due to COVID-19 concerns means the loss of many potential air travellers for Canadian North.
Airlines in the circumpolar world have already taken a big financial hit due to the impact of coronavirus on travel. Norwegian Air cancelled 3,000 of its flights through mid-June and SAS has asked its staff to take a 20 per cent pay cut over three months.
Air Greenland’s executive director, Jacob Nitter Sørensen, told Greenland’s Sermitsiaq AG newspaper March 11 that “our biggest commercial risk right now is coronavirus.”
“This will undoubtedly have an impact on the annual result in 2020. What you can do as an airline is consolidate our traffic program, cancel flights and minimize costs. We assess that daily,” he said.
Pay cuts may also lie ahead for Air Greenland employees.
“We definitely do not want that, but we see that other companies in the industry are doing that to survive right now,” he said.