North

Northern-based airline hopes lifted vaccine mandate will reduce burden on staff

On Tuesday, the federal government announced a suspension of vaccine mandates for federal employees and for passengers wishing to board a plane or train in Canada.

Federal government announces suspension of vaccine mandates for air and train travel come June 20.

President of Air Tindi, Chris Reynolds welcomes the federal government's decision to suspend vaccine mandates for air travellers, and says it will likely reduce the wait times passengers have been experiencing. (The Canadian Press)

A Yellowknife-based airline says the federal government's decision to suspend vaccine mandates for domestic air travellers will alleviate some of the administrative burden placed on staff. 

Chris Reynolds, president of Air Tindi, says axing the vaccine passport will cut back on the time it takes to check in passengers and put less strain on an already short-staffed airport. 

"It's time consuming and no one is [flush] with staff these days, so it's just taking time away from other critical jobs," Reynolds said. 

On Tuesday, the federal government announced a suspension of vaccine mandates for federal employees and for passengers traveling by plane or train in Canada starting June 20.

Reynolds says checking vaccine passports has added roughly three minutes for every person on a scheduled flight. For chartered flights, Air Tindi services more than double the amount of passengers, which is where he says the time really adds up. 

"That means the check-in time gets pushed way, way back and there's other flights," he said. 

For northern communities, there has always been the option to test for COVID, rather than show proof of vaccination. Air Tindi administered these tests in the airport, which Reynolds says easily added another half hour for passengers to board. 

Public health measures, such as wearing a mask, will remain in effect throughout travel on a federally regulated plane or train. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

During the federal government's announcement, Transport Minister of Canada, Omar Alghabra, said international airports around the world are also facing wait times and congestion due to a surge in demand.

However, Alghabra also said the changes to vaccine mandates are not a response to congestion at Canada's airports but are motivated by health advice and the effect mandates and vaccination policies have had on previous COVID-19 waves.

"We have been acting and working collaboratively with airports and airlines to ensure that we have increased efficiencies at our airports," Alghabra said. 

Workers on unpaid administrative leave can return

Alghabra says resources have been increased at the Canadian Border Services Agency, and random COVID-19 testing at airports will be lifted. 

Ottawa's announcement also included that those on unpaid administrative leave because of their vaccination status are able to return to work.

As a federally regulated airline, Air Tindi was required to let go of employees that refused to get vaccinated as part of the government mandate. Reynolds says it's unlikely that the staff they lost will return, seeing as too much time has passed. 

"Tindi is a firm, firm supporter in vaccinations in general but it wasn't a supporter of people losing their livelihoods over it." 

If the COVID-19 situation were to worsen, the federal government announced that it will bring back vaccine mandates.

Mandates have been in effect since Oct. 30, 2021. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at celeste.decaire@cbc.ca and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.

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