Air Canada asked its employees to encourage Canadians to fly both domestically and internationally, the same day Canada hit a dark benchmark of 100,000 COVID-19 cases and close to 10,000 related deaths.
The request was made in an internal email sent to staff Thursday and obtained by HuffPost Canada, while public health officials continue to advise Canadians against all non-essential travel.
The email also emphasized that Air Canada has joined a tourism industry roundtable, which published an open letter to the prime minister and premiers urging them to lift travel restrictions so Canadians can “safely resume travel throughout all provinces of Canada, as well as select countries.”
“Employees are all encouraged to share the letter in their own social channels along with the hashtag #timetotravel,” the email said. In a video, CEO Calin Rovinescu asked employees to spread the message by contacting government officials and people they know and posting to social media.
It is very worrying to have our CEO asking us to go against provincial and federal health guidance.Air Canada employee
One Air Canada employee, who spoke to HuffPost anonymously because they are not authorized to speak publicly and fear job repercussions, described the request as “horrible,” as people flying in close quarters contributed to the global spread of COVID-19 earlier this year.
“It is very worrying to have our CEO asking us to go against provincial and federal health guidance,” the employee said. “[The pandemic] has been devastating for our industry, absolutely. But at the cost of lives of people that we love? This is a far more important thing to protect.”
Air Canada told HuffPost that reopening Canada to travel is in line with other jurisdictions, including Europe’s Schengen area.
“Travel is not only a leisure activity, it is also essential for business and if we are to restart the economy, restoring the ability to travel in a safe and responsible way, is a necessary first step,” said spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick.
Watch: Will travel resume this summer? Story continues below.
Canadians remain under a strict advisory to avoid all non-essential travel, put into place in March after the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. In April, 26 per cent of Canadian COVID-19 cases were related to travel, estimated Statistics Canada.
Air Canada and other airlines have announced summer schedules. Canada’s largest airline will offer flights to major American cities, as well as to Europe and Asia, including Italy, France, Japan and Hong Kong.
Airlines are required to check the health of all passengers and can deny boarding to those who show symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever. Canadians who travel are required to quarantine for 14 days when they return.
In the email to staff, Rovinescu said the federal government, “has not chosen to provide any specific funding or program for the airline industry. This means we will largely have to go it alone and continue to act decisively.
“What I can tell you is that we’re doing everything possible to restore our company to the growing, prosperous and dynamic enterprise that it was pre-COVID.”
At the end of May, Air Canada announced it would no longer use the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy, which covered 75 per cent of wages, and instead opted to lay off about 20,000 staff, including flight attendants, mechanics and customer service agents, as up to 95 per cent of its operations were halted and 225 planes grounded.
Transport Canada spokesperson Amy Butcher said that her organization is aware airlines are facing “significant challenges.”
“We will continue to engage with them, and closely monitor the situation in the hard-hit aviation sector,” Butcher said in an email. “As different regions across Canada begin to re-open, we will take a safe, prudent and collaborative approach, guided by science and public health experts.”
Rovinescu, who earned $11.6 million last year, saw his compensation slide from an expected $12.9 to $5.8 million as the airline’s shares plummeted due to the pandemic, according to the Canadian Press.