A day at Montreal’s Trudeau airport during the COVID-19 pandemic
Published Monday, June 1, 2020 5:11PM EDT
MONTREAL -- In mid-March, Canadians abroad were being urged to fly home immediately, before their options dried up.
And though borders did close to non-residents and those who didn’t have a reason to come here, flights never stopped completely.
Up to 1,000 passengers have been flying in and out of Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport every day since the beginning of the travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, compared to the 55,000 daily passengers Canada’s third busiest airport used to handle, it’s a tiny figure.
The tarmac looks more like a parking lot than a runway these days, and inside, the unusual calm is striking.
“It just feels uncanny,” said Danny Levasseur, who works as a computer technician at the airport.
In fact, the airport is operating at two per cent capacity.
This week, several businesses in the Montreal area were given the green light to re-open, after being shut down for the past two months.
But one of the city’s biggest employers — the airport community is made up of 13,000 workers — remains all but shut down.
There are no shops open past security, only a handful of restaurants and convenience stores.
“Business is pretty bad,” admits Imad Chahrour, manager of Paramount Fine Foods.
His restaurant used to employ 30 people, now there are just five. These days his clientele is relying heavily on airport employees who might be looking for a quick bite during their lunch breaks.
“Usually the counter here is full of people, full of life, now we’re just counting the minutes,” he said.
Most of the airport’s businesses are trying to survive with the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy program, which allow them to keep employees on the payroll by providing for up to 75 of their salaries until the end of August.
In addition, the airport authority saw its rent waived through to the end of 2020 for both Trudeau and Mirabel airports, resulting in savings of $38 million.
Even then, it expects a financial loss of a quarter billion dollars by year’s end.
And for some, federal help may not be enough to survive. Chahrour, for one, has been planning to list his business on food delivery websites try to increase his revenue stream.
Most of the people flying are foreign workers coming to Quebec to work in agriculture, essential workers, exchange students, and people simply coming home or trying to go home.
There are about 50 flights a day between arrivals and departures, with on average 10 to 20 passengers on each of these flights.
Compare that to 600 daily flights in and out of Trudeau before.
Transport Canada rules introduced April 17 made facial masks mandatory at Canadian airports, but only in places where people are expected to be in close quarters, like security checkpoints and boarding.
Since March 26, arriving travellers are asked to give the address where they’re ordered to quarantine for 14 days.
Travellers said they were also asked questions about their health on arrival.
“Any Coronavirus symptoms, cough, cold, symptoms like that,” said Gugun Gill, who was returning home from Australia.
Unlike international airports in some countries, there are no temperature checks at Trudeau Airport, nor is it required to complete a health declaration form, or provide proof of a negative Coronavirus test.
But the airport authority said it has taken several measures to ensure physical distancing and increase frequency of cleaning.
Some airlines started announcing slightly extended summer flight schedules starting June 1, with flexible booking options, hoping to help their hurting bottom lines.
But with travel restrictions still in place in many countries, it remains to be seen whether many Montrealers will opt to hop on a plane this summer.