Passengers concerned after Nanaimo airport filled with international students

Some passengers on a recent Nanaimo flight were shocked and infuriated by what happened before, during, and after the plane landed.

Passengers on an Air Canada flight that arrived from Vancouver on Sunday evening told CHEK News the plane was filled to capacity, with the majority of those being exchange students from Europe.

“It just didn’t feel safe. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel acceptable. There was no social distancing. All the government’s advisories kind of went out the window,” said Chase Spencer, one of the passengers on the flight.

“It felt like a regular flight. I thought there was going to be 10 people on my flight from Vancouver to Nanaimo,” he added.

Adding to the crowd of international students were people coming and going from the terminal, picking up those who had just arrived, despite numerous signs inside the airport telling non-travellers to remain outside.

Others told CHEK News similar stories, saying they were shocked and infuriated with what they saw, and described the scene at the terminal as total “chaos” with approximately 120 people waiting inside.

Dave Devana, Nanaimo Airport Commission’s chief executive officer, said there were only two staff members at the terminal at the time when the flight arrived.

“People were wearing masks but it was difficult to maintain social distancing with that number of passengers and people picking them up,” he said.

Devana also said it was a very unusual circumstance to have a full plane in January when their numbers are down about 80 to 85 percent.

“The other thing that made this unusual is that we had up to 70 international students that were coming in to go to school here and we haven’t seen that for at least nine months,” said Devana.

All international students are required to quarantine for 14 days and according to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District, that happens with their host family.

Air Canada says all the international passengers had to test negative for COVID-19 before getting on the flight. They also say they inform passengers when there are full flights in case passengers want to change flights.

However, Spencer says he didn’t get any such notification. He says he is also concerned that exchange students are arriving during a pandemic.

“I just don’t think that while it’s advising against international travel, you know firing politicians who have travelled to see family across the border [they should be] allowing this to happen,” said Spencer.

Dale Burgos, communications director with the school district, told CHEK News in a statement that 57 international students arrived between Jan. 14 and Jan. 18. He also said “only one family member” was to collect their student from the airport.

Meanwhile, Devana says the Nanaimo Airport will conduct a review to ensure safety protocols are followed in the future.

Nanaimo Airport arrival lounge on Sunday, Jan. 6. Passengers say the terminal was filled with mostly international students. (Photo submitted)

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