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Passenger shocked by packed Air Canada flight: ‘I was a little disappointed’

COVID-19 concerns in the Air Canada airplane seating
WATCH ABOVE: A frequent flier says she'll try and avoid flying with Air Canada again, based on the airline's response to the coronavirus pandemic. As Sarah Ryan reports, the company says it will introduce new safety measures on May 15.

An Edmonton woman who works in medical sales and flies frequently for work is speaking out after she says nearly every seat on her Air Canada flight home from Toronto earlier this week was full, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Saturday, Lydia Dyck flew with WestJet to Toronto for work. She said the experience was great.

“WestJet kept all the middle seats in economy class open, so we didn’t feel packed,” she said Wednesday. “Lysol wipes were provided when we walked on, and it seemed like they had a handle on the whole COVID situation.”

READ MORE: Airline conducts rapid blood tests for COVID-19. Should this be the new normal?

But when she flew home Monday with Air Canada, she said the in-flight experience was much different.

“Different experience for sure. The plane was packed. There were many middle seats taken and I felt like the whole dynamic was a little bit hectic. It felt a lot different,” she said. “I was a little disappointed.

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“In no shape or form were you even close to six feet distancing, which I understand, a plane you can’t do it. But at least make an effort to provide some spacing because the distance between people’s heads in the rows that were completely full was like a hand.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Air Canada suspending flights to U.S. for 4 weeks after April 26

Dyck said she was asked some pre-screening questions before boarding the flight — did she have a fever or a cough, and had she tested positive for COVID-19. And all passengers were required to wear masks. But Dyck said she hoped for more.

“There are other measures you can take for sure to make it even more safe,” she said.

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“I was just expecting that there would be a little bit of room between the passengers,” she said. “Maybe wipes would be passed around. That’s always handy and helpful, especially if people want to wipe their space down — even if it already has been — people are frightened.”

READ MORE: Temperature screening not always reliable to mitigate coronavirus risk, experts say

In a statement to Global News, Air Canada said it views reducing the risk to the travelling public as a “multi-layered approach.”

“It’s important to remember that while all of us would welcome a single measure we can take, in reality, we are left to use a combination of approaches to mitigate the risk as far as practical. As the Public Health Agency of Canada, the WHO and numerous other health experts worldwide state, the use of nose and mouth coverings in instances where physical distancing is not always possible is a practical consideration,” the statement read.

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“We focus on a series of initiatives that work together: temperature and symptom screening, use of masks covering nose and mouth and other PPE, physical distancing by way of additional space onboard, cleaning and disinfection, contact tracing and finally measures that we impose on the operating crew.

“And on May 15, we are implementing an enhanced and automated extension of physical distancing measures we already had in place since early April. Previously, on flights where possible, our gate agents had proactively re-seated customers to have as few people sitting next to one another as possible, and if that was not possible, customers have an option to travel on a later flight at no additional cost.”

READ MORE: Canadian companies ramp up coronavirus measures as provinces ease restrictions

In a video posted on social media on May 4, Air Canada’s president and CEO said the airline’s first priority is the health, safety and well-being of its customers and staff.

“In the coming days we will launch a new protocol for safety, cleanliness and hygiene throughout a passenger’s journey,” Calin Rovinescu said.

“Social distancing will be emphasized. It will be enacted at airport check-ins, security queues, in our lounges, at airport gates, during the boarding process and onboard our aircraft.”

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Dyck said she saw the new policy on the airline’s website before her flight, but questions why it hasn’t already been implemented.

“The clean initiative is really a great step in the right direction but it needs to be implemented immediately,” she said.

“I think it’s unacceptable. I think if you’re going to throw a mandate out there, make it count. Do it right away. We need it now, don’t advertise it and then postpone it until we need it less. Right now we’re in the heat of it.”

Coronavirus around the world: May 7, 2020
Coronavirus around the world: May 7, 2020

When asked by Global News why the policies aren’t in effect now, Air Canada did not respond.

With files from Sarah Ryan, Global News.