COVID-19: Canada Sets New Restrictive Transportation Measures

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has announced a number of restrictive transportation measures in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. As a result, the Canadian airlines have announced significant reductions in their flight scheduling.

This bulletin outlines these travel restrictions, the Canadian air operators’ responses to COVID-19 and what, if any, assistance the Government of Canada has currently announced that it may provide to the aviation industry.

  • Effective March 18, 2020, Canada closed its borders to non-citizens and non-permanent residents of Canada, other than immediate family members of Canadian citizens, foreign diplomats, air crews and U.S. citizens. Subsequent to this announcement, Prime Minster Trudeau and President Trump both announced that the Canada-U.S. border will be closed to non-essential travel, taking effect on midnight, March 20, 2020.

  • At present, the flight restrictions do not apply to domestic flights and those coming from the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, nor are they applicable to commerce or trade, such as cargo.

  • All international arrivals have been redirected to four Canadian airports: Toronto Pearson International Airport, Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Calgary International and Vancouver International Airport. Considering these new policies, both the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) have committed additional resources at these four airports.

  • Prior to accepting a passenger, airlines are required to complete a basic health assessment of that passenger based on guidance from PHAC. This involves the airline asking simple health questions, looking for visible signs of illness prior to boarding and possibly referring such passenger for a further medical assessment.

  • Under the Aeronautics Act, the Minister of Transport requires airlines to deny boarding to any passenger who is symptomatic—regardless of citizenship status—and keep them from getting on an international flight to Canada. 

  • Airlines have been asked to ensure that if a passenger shows COVID-19 symptoms inflight, said passenger is isolated and air traffic control is notified prior to landing. Upon arrival, airports will be required to segregate any symptomatic passengers, so they do not come into close contact with others in the airport.

  • Airports have been asked to strengthen screening measures, including stronger and more visible messaging, inserting health screening questions at kiosks and all passengers—Canadian or non-Canadian—are asked to self-isolate for two weeks, with an exception solely for workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people. Finally, CBSA will increase the number of border agents in airports checking on arriving passengers to ensure delivery and reinforcement of the public health messaging.


Most airlines have implemented additional cleaning protocols and posted amendments to their change and cancelation policies, often waiving the usual associated fees. WestJet has compiled and released a list of flights where a passenger has since tested positive for COVID-19 to try to combat the asymptomatic passenger spread of the virus. As of the release of this bulletin, the major Canadian airlines have announced the following flight restrictions:

  • Air Canada: Significant reduction in transborder and international flights, reducing its transborder operations from 53 to 13 U.S. airports and its international operations from 101 to 6 airports

  • WestJet: Suspension of all transborder and international flights as of March 22, 2020, for a 30-day period

  • Porter Airlines: Suspension of all operations as of March 20, 2020, until June 1, 2020

  • Sunwing: Suspension of all commercial outbound flights from Canada between March 17, 2020, and April 9, 2020; commercial flights into Canada are continuing

  • Air Transat: Gradual suspension of flights until April 30, 2020

Nearly all international Canadian operators have confirmed that they will continue to operate repatriation flights for a limited period. Cost-reduction measures are expected as airlines attempt to navigate through this crisis resulting in a longer-term impact after initial outbreak of the virus has stopped.


On March 5, 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projected that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause a hit to global revenues of up to US$113-billion on the airline industry. Since then, IATA have stated that this figure is “undoubtably” too low taking into consideration the effective closure of the North American market, and have stated that the global aviation industry will need government aid and bailout measures totalling between US$150-billion and US$200-billion to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among others, Air Canada has called on the Government of Canada to provide assistance and support to the aviation industry during and after this crisis. Other countries have already started to implement measures, and some countries have confirmed their support to ease the impact of COVID-19. Norway removed aviation taxes and exempted the airline industry from its competition and merger legislation, whereas President Trump confirmed that the American administration will be “backing the airlines 100 per cent.”

The Government of Canada has announced a sweeping economic relief package. For more information, please see our March 2020 Blakes Bulletin: Government of Canada Announces COVID-19 Economic Response. Although no specific measures have been announced to support the aviation industry to date, the increase in Export Development Canada’s Canada Account availability and the Business Credit Availability Program will be available to qualifying industry players.


The impact of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and there are no clear answers or timeframe for the crisis to end. To help navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, Blakes has consolidated resources on a range of topics relating to the coronavirus and its business and legal implications.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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