COVID-19 travel in Canada: Not every Canadian passenger is being screened for vaccine yet — for good reason, officials say

A person holds an iPhone in her hands and displays it to a guard. There is a green check mark and a bar code on her screen.

People flying within Canada might be surprised to learn that airlines aren’t required to check all passengers boarding for confirmation they’ve received both vaccines.

The issue came to light recently when concerned resident took to Twitter to call out WestJet, after the person’s daughter was told by the airline that they only check one in 10 passengers for proof of full vaccination.

“My daughter asked why you are not checking vaccine passport in Prince George… response is “We check 1 in 10 passengers.” This is not good enough. Especially passengers coming from the North. Please RT this and boycott West Jet,” the user wrote, tagging Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health.

In the replies to the Tweet, another user commented that she experienced something similar while flying back and forth between Vancouver and Ottawa.

“It’s the same with @AirCanada No ones vaccination status was checked on either leg of my Vancouver-Ottawa-Vancouver flights,” user @carmst2000 wrote.

Many expressed their outrage about the lack of effort to check passengers for their proof of vaccination, while others share similar experiences.

Westjet, Air Canada, Transport Canada respond to random screenings

When reached for comment, Morgan Bell, a representative from WestJet said in an email that the company was adhering to the policy and that agents are active in the validation/verification process as instructed by Transport Canada. She added that the company has also added mandatory passenger attestation at 24-hour check-in and on airport kiosks.

“We continue to communicate to guests that they should be prepared to show proof of vaccination (or negative PCR during the grace period) at all stages of their travel journey,” she wrote.

A representative for Air Canada responded that the company is complying with the new regulations which state that travellers, selected on a random basis, are obliged to show evidence of Covid-19 vaccination.

He added that as of November 30, the law will require all passengers to prove they are fully vaccinated, and that the airline will be putting in place a system for customers to conveniently submit their information.

According to the interim order listed on the Transport Canada website, a request for evidence of full vaccination is required before permitting a certain number of passengers to board, selected on a random basis.

Sau Sau Liu, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, says that travellers are responsible for proving they are eligible to board a train or plane in Canada in accordance with the rules. Verification will depend on the mode and operator of transport.

Since the implementation and phasing in of the vaccination requirement on October 30, the federal government has been ramping up the requirements for airlines to verify vaccination status of passengers.

"This step-by-step approach was taken to give airlines the necessary flexibility to implement this process as it represents a significant change to their business models and systems," she says.

By December, all passengers should expect for their vaccination status to be verified, either digitally, manually or both. Liu says Transport Canada will oversee compliance by means of inspections and enforcement tools—including fines —using oversight systems in place for each mode.

On the government website, it describes October 30 through November 29 as a “transition period” when travellers who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated will be able to travel if they can show a valid COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. As of November 30, a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be accepted as an alternative to the COVID-19 vaccination, and passengers who make plans to travel should ensure they are fully vaccinated by then.