Many Canadians are reporting lengthy delays and wait times at airports across Canada as the travel industry rebounds following two years of pandemic restrictions.
Danielle Parent says she waited “for hours” at Toronto Pearson International Airport after recently returning to Canada from her honeymoon in Mexico.
Parent told CTV News Channel that her plane landed at the airport and the doors opened as per usual, however, an hour then passed with no one disembarking the aircraft.
“There were rumors going around the plane that we could be there for at least three hours. By that point, I was starting to have a panic attack,” she said Thursday.
Parent said it was a “terrible experience” following her vacation, and approached one of the flight attendants about getting off the plane early due to medical reasons. She said they eventually allowed her and her husband to disembark early.
But once off the plane, Parent said they were “immediately” met with an “extremely long line that snaked all the way down the hallway just to get to the escalator for customs.”
While they were able to bypass that line due to medical reasons, Parent estimates they would have been waiting there at least 90 minutes to get to customs. Once at customs, it was at least a two and a half hour wait to get through.
“There were about three people working to deal with this massive line that really just snaked around the entire inside of the building,” Parent said.
Multiple airports are reporting extremely long lines at airport security and border screening checkpoints, while passengers say they are being forced to wait for hours — and sometimes missing their flights.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said last week that staffing challenges at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) were contributing to long lines at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
“As air travel recovers we are observing simultaneous peaks, which can result in passengers flooding more than one security checkpoint at a time, making the redistribution of resources to address these passenger volumes more challenging,” the CATSA said in part in a statement to CTV Toronto.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that Canada’s airport security agency is increasing its staffing, but suggested a lack of workers is not the main culprit for the delays at airports.
Alghabra said out-of-practice travelers are causing delays at security checkpoints as Canadians shift back into travel mode after spending most of the last two years grounded by COVID-19.
“Taking out the laptops, taking out the fluids — all that adds 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there,” he told reporters.
Changing flight schedules have also resulted in large volumes of flights leaving and arriving at the same time, causing big bottlenecks at certain times of day, as well as last-minute bookings, he said.
Parents said there was “little communication” from flight staff about what was causing the delays inside the airport. She added that she left for her honeymoon earlier this month on the day airports first reporting delays, but she did not have any issues heading to Mexico out of Pearson Airport.
“The flight attendant actually made a comment saying that I should have known about this, but I was like, ‘Well, we were on our honeymoon. We weren’t following the news about Pearson’,” Parent explained.
AIRPORT WAIT TIMES THE ‘NEW NORMAL’
Martin Firestone, president of Toronto-based travel insurance brokerage Travel Secure, previously told CTV’s Your Morning that such long wait times at airports will be the “new normal” for those taking vacations this summer.
“It just appears that travel has come back bigger and better than ever. Sadly though, the infrastructure is not where it once was,” Firestone said. “Now people are facing long lineups and run the risk of missing a flight.”
Firestone says arriving at the airport early is the best strategy to combat long wait times, as well as planning ahead.
“You can’t get there early enough. I know it says two hours domestic, three hours international — I don’t think it’s enough. You just have to be there, sit there, take your time there, rather than sitting at home and trying to time it because if you miss that flight, that plane is not waiting for you,” he said.
Parent said she will not be traveling through Pearson Airport again until the staffing issues and long wait times have been addressed.
“We had a family member that was supposed to pick us up, but they waited hours for us to the point where we eventually had to tell them [to] go home and I’ve overheard a lot of people were in that same boat,” she said.
Speaking to CTV News Channel on Thursday, Tourism Industry of Ontario President and CEO Chris Bloore said pandemic restrictions at airports are also contributing to the hours-long delays many travelers have experienced in recent weeks.
He said COVID-19 health checks, including random tests, are slowing down the processing times for inbound travelers to clear customs.
“Pre-pandemic, it would take 30 seconds or so for a customer or traveler to get through customs checks. Now it’s taking up to two minutes and that’s why we’re hearing the really horrific tales,” Bloore explained.
If the federal government were to get rid of some of these mandatory health questions and move random testing off-site, Bloore says, it would help ease the burden on airport staff.
“This is a mixture of problems, but they’re problems that we can deal with working with the federal government and I think we need to do it sooner rather than later because we’re only going to get busy at the summer,” he said.
Bloore says the situation at Pearson is becoming “very, very serious” and worries it will inflict reputational damage, not only to Toronto, but to all of Canada as a travel destination.
“We have to recognize, after two years of uncertainty and such a difficult time for the travel and tourism industry, we can’t take our place as a world leading tourism destination for granted,” he said.
“Otherwise, some people will just simply not choose to come to Ontario or Canada as a whole.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
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