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Show evidence planes still safe without in-flight distancing: B.C. Health Minister

Last Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 5:35 pm PDT

FILE - Economy class seating in the new WestJet 787 Dreamliner airplane is shown in Calgary on February 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Health Minister Adrian Dix wants to see evidence it is safe for people to sit in middle seats on airplanes again

WestJet and Air Canada to change seating policies starting Wednesday

The airlines point to health recommendations from the International Air Transport Association

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s Health Minister is looking for answers after two major Canadian airlines announced changes to a policy that has allowed for physical distancing on flights.

Adrian Dix says he wants to know why starting Wednesday major airlines are no longer leaving middle seats on planes empty.

“Yes, I will be talking to federal counterparts about this question. I will be asking what I expect them to show, which is if there’s evidence to show that this is safe or that the risks are acceptable,” he says.

“It’s important to also show, if you’re Air Canada and WestJet, through all your other actions, your determination to stop the spread of COVID-19. You can’t just talk about this in terms of its economic value to the airline, although that’s very important in our country.”

He notes wearing face coverings have value when there’s no alternative to physical distancing, but cannot act as a replacement.

Canadians have already expressed concern over the impending change, with some cancelling flights and others demanding refunds.

Watch: Canadians worry about travel as Westjet and Air Canada sell middle seats

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also says the airline in-flight distancing policy does not fall under her jurisdiction, but she assumes there is evidence to support the move.

Transport Canada says in a statement it issued guidance to the aviation industry, including recommendations for passenger spacing aboard planes, but it is not mandatory.

The airlines point to health recommendations from the International Air Transport Association.

The trade group called for an end to in-flight physical distancing rules last month, proposing a range of other measures instead.

-With files from Taylor Braat, Derek Craddock, and the Canadian Press