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‘Chaos’ at Toronto’s Pearson airport could continue until end of August, ex-Air Canada exec says

Extremely long wait times affecting arriving and departing passengers at Toronto’s Pearson airport are likely to continue until Labour Day, a former Air Canada executive said Wednesday.

“Chaos, messy, impossible, difficult,” were the words used by Duncan Dee to describe the situation at Canada’s busiest airport. 

“It’s not where you want to be,” Dee told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

Over the last two months, travellers at Pearson have faced long lineups, delays and cancellations, which some blame on continuing COVID-19 restrictions and a labour shortage.

Dee says while Canada’s Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra has promised 400 new screening officers starting at the end of June, he doubts that that’s going to make a huge difference. 

“In terms of the customs delays, until the pandemic-era inspections are changed, I hate to think that this is something that’s going to plague us through the entire summer,” Dee said. 

“Things should get a little bit easier for those travelling after Labour Day. Unfortunately, that’s also when schools get back so families won’t be able to travel as much.”

LISTEN | Former COO of Air Canada on what’s behind airport delays:

Metro Morning8:48Former COO of Air Canada says lack of preparation by governments exacerbating delays at Pearson Airport

On Wednesday, Alghabra announced on Twitter that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has now hired more than 850 new agents across Canada. 

“This will help get you through security faster and on your way to your destination,” he wrote in the tweet. “We will keep working to reduce wait times at airports.”

‘The biggest disgrace known to man’

The delays at Pearson gained added attention this week after former professional hockey player Ryan Whitney took to social media Monday to share his frustration after Air Canada cancelled flights and allegedly had minimal ground staff to assist affected passengers.

“This is the worst airport on earth, I’m telling you there’s no other airport like this,” Whitney said in a video posted on Twitter.

“I am so shocked at this place, it is the biggest disgrace known to man.”

Concerns that travellers will avoid Canada

Meanwhile, Toronto business leaders held a news conference last month during which they urged Ottawa to end hours-long delays at Pearson.

They warned during that news conference that passengers would share their experiences with the rest of the world and that could negatively affect arrivals in the medium and long term.

“My concern is that this poor first impression will keep people from returning to Canada or stories of bad experiences here at Toronto’s airport will force travellers to consider other locations and destinations instead,” Edwin Frizzell, general manager of the Fairmont Royal York, said at that news conference. 

Another business leader, Jan De Silva, president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, said, “International passengers are being forced to wait for up to three hours, sometimes inside the aircraft they flew in on, because of longer processing times by customs officers.” 

chaos at torontos pearson airport could continue until end of august ex air canada exec says
Edwin Frizzell, general manager of the Fairmont Royal York, expressed concern in May that the poor first impression of Pearson Airport will keep people from returning to Canada. (CBC)

Dee says dropping the COVID-19 screening will “certainly help solve the arrivals problems” at Pearson. 

“Right now, according to the airports, it’s taking four times longer for each traveller to be processed through customs, so if you remove those pandemic-era inspections, you’re going to immediately see a four-fold decrease in the amount of time it takes to process passengers — so 30 to maybe 60 seconds per passenger instead of two to three minutes per passenger. That’s a huge, huge savings right there,” he said. 

“On the security side, crew members, your flight attendants and pilots are inspected just like they are a traveller just coming off the street, so just stop that. That’s something that other countries don’t even do, but in Canada, we’ve decided that for some reason, the individuals flying the aircraft who all the passengers trust their lives with need to be inspected and need to have their liquids checked every time they go through the airport,” Dee added.

In May, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority also called on Ottawa to urgently do the following to help alleviate the situation at Pearson Airport. Among its recommendations:

  • Streamline or eliminate inbound legacy public health requirements at Canada’s airports.
  • Eliminate random testing upon arrival from Canada’s airports and look to options such as community wastewater testing.
  • Invest in government agency staffing and technology to achieve globally competitive service level standards.
  • Engage with the U.S. government to ensure staffing and capacity at preclearance sites return to pre-pandemic levels.
chaos at torontos pearson airport could continue until end of august ex air canada exec says 1
In May, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority also called on Ottawa to urgently take steps to help alleviate the situation at Pearson Airport. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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