Affordable Air Travelling Is A Human Right Too!

Affordable air travelling is often framed as more than just an expedition convenience or economic necessity—it is increasingly seen as a fundamental human right.

by Ban Zhang


A recent online petition having collected nearly 14,000 signatories sheds new light on a four-year-old challenge that undermines some Canadians’ air travel rights.

The petition was started by a resident of Richmond Hill, Ontario on October 4, 2023, on a San Francisco-based website for social change – The petition addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Members of Parliament, and Representatives of the Canadian Government, urging “the government to engage in diplomatic dialogues and negotiations with the Chinese government to resolve the prevailing challenges and work towards restoring regular air travel between the two countries as soon as possible.”

Air travel between the two countries has become a mission inaccessible and unaffordable since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. It started with the COVID-19 travel restrictions by both governments. After Mosco invaded Kyiv, Canadian flights were not allowed to use Russian airspace including some routes to China, which added extra costs to the journey. The real deadlock that many people believe is perhaps the political rhetoric and war of words between Beijing and Ottawa, particularly after repeating reported allegations of Chinese meddling in Canadian elections.

It is widely believed that this political tension has delayed the reopening of once one of Canada’s major air travel markets in Asia because it is a highly regulated industry. Despite already lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions, both countries’ airlines currently operate passenger direct flights at 10 flights a week, including four flights by Air Canada, one flight each by Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines from both Vancouver’s YVR and Toronto’s YYZ airports.

In the summer of 2019, the number of direct flights between the two countries was operated at a peak of over 100 flights a week. This means the current flight numbers are only at one-tenth of the regular level in a normal situation.

“The reduction of flights makes fewer seats available to air travellers,” said Tony Yin, a Vancouver travel operator for over 20 years. Flights to China are costing his clients three times the price they used to pay in 2019.

“Many people are very frustrated,” he continued, “and have to postpone their travels or reduce the frequency of travels. This makes it hard for travellers, and even harder for our tourism operators.”

A B.C. resident, Ally Wang, recently travelled back to China after nearly four years of putting the family visit on hold. To get a cheaper air ticket, she and her child had to make two stops before getting to the final destination. “We have to spend over 24 hours to get there one way. In the past, it was normally 12 hours for a direct flight. We were so tired.”

A Canadian said under the condition of anonymity that she had studied and worked in Canada some years ago and now works for a Canadian official agency in Shanghai. “I want to go back (Canada) to visit my professors, classmates and friends. But the air tickets are too expensive now, so I’d better wait and see.”

Many Canadian citizens and residents, including over 1.8 million Canadian residents of Chinese origin, and more than 128,000 Chinese students in Canadian educational institutions, who have their family, business, or pleasure desires to travel between the two countries are trapped in this awkward situation.

The impact goes far beyond. Our diplomates in Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, trade commissioners in 10 trade offices, and Canadian teachers and students, business persons, and other professionals working in China who are most likely to travel using our hard-earned tax dollars are facing the same challenge. Furthermore, many families and friends of Canadians find it difficult to connect with their loved ones in Canada.

In such an interconnected contemporary world where distance is no longer a barrier to communication and opportunity, the ability to access affordable flights is pivotal for Canadians to exercise their rights to freedom of movement, economic opportunity, and familial connections.

At its core, the notion of affordable air travel as a human right underscores the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in modern societies. Just as access to housing, education, healthcare, and clean water are considered essential human rights, so too should access to affordable transportation be recognized.

Canadians have the Charter-protected motility rights to be at home or abroad. Without affordable air travel, Canadians may be hindered in their ability to seek educational opportunities afar, pursue business prospects in distant locations, or reunite with family members living in other parts of the world.

Moreover, affordable air travel is integral to economic empowerment and social mobility. By facilitating the movement of goods and people, affordable air travel plays a crucial role in promoting economic development and prosperity for all Canadians.

Furthermore, affordable air travel strengthens familial and societal bonds by enabling Canadians to maintain connections with loved ones across long distances. Being able to reunite with family, celebrate cultural traditions together, and provide support during times of need are fundamental aspects of people-to-people relationships that should not be restricted by financial or other barriers to travel.

However, despite the undeniable benefits of affordable air travel, challenges remain in ensuring that this right is accessible to all. As there is no sign of an immediate end to the Russia-Ukraine War, Canadian flights still have to take longer routes, adding extra costs to the already inflated fuel costs of the flights. Canada may have little to say about bringing this war to an end, but should have something to do with bringing back regular air travel between Canada and China as this online petition demanded.

In conclusion, affordable air travel should be recognized as a human right, essential for Canadians to exercise their freedoms, pursue economic opportunities, and maintain social connections in an interconnected world.

Upholding this right requires a commitment to accessibility, inclusivity, and sustainability in policies and practices, ensuring that the benefits of air travel are shared equitably among all members of society. By recognizing and promoting affordable air travel as a human right, we can build a more connected, prosperous, and equitable Canada for future generations.

This week, Washington announced allowing Chinese carriers to fly 50 weekly round trips to and from the United States from March 31, up from 35 currently.

It is perhaps the right time for Ottawa to play a catch too.



  • Ban Zhang is a Vancouver-based writer.
  • The cover photo is from Nieuwland Photography via Shutterstock.




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