Minister Says Rusty Travellers; Flight Schedules to Blame for Airport Lineups as Calls Grow for Ottawa to Step Up

Calls for the federal government to increase staffing at Canada’s major airports are getting increasingly strident.

Thursday 12MAY, Toronto business leaders, including representatives from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, AccorHotels, and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, came together to echo the Greater Toronto Airports Authority’s call last week for Ottawa to urgently address government agency staffing issues forcing travellers at Canada’s largest airport to endure staggeringly long lineups.

In addition, they joined in the call for the federal government to eliminate “legacy Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) measures” slowing down the processing time of airport pax.

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Like the GTAA, Thursday’s group of travel industry representatives, calling their coalition “Unlock the Summer,” pointed out that Canada’s travel industry is still in a fragile state of recovery.

“Severe passenger congestion at our country’s largest airport will have lasting impacts on the City of Toronto’s ability to get back to normal,” said Edwin Frizzell, Regional Vice President Accor Central Canada & General Manager of Fairmont Royal York at AccorHotels.

“We are painfully and inexcusably behind” 

Jan De Silva, President and CEO of Toronto Region Board of Trade said, “To solve for the long-tail economic realities faced by our visitor economy we must demonstrate to potential visitors – especially our business visitors – they can travel easily and without undo challenge to our region.  In short – we need to make this a good experience. Competing cities around the world are doing this successfully. We are painfully and inexcusably behind.”

“For this reason, we echo the GTAA and urge the federal government to take immediate action and remove legacy public health requirements to support GTA businesses and to help our city get back to normal.”

“Toronto Pearson is the gateway for international travellers visiting Toronto and continuing to other Canadian destinations,” said  Christopher Bloore, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

“The last thing we need is another hurdle that hampers our collective recovery. We need action from the government now.”

“Reports of Travellers Cancelling”

ACTA’s president Wendy Paradis was also part of Thursday’s public call on Ottawa to keep travellers moving through Canada’s airports.

“Canada’s travel industry, including travel agencies and independent travel agents, are just beginning the long road to recovery. Yet, ACTA has received reports of travellers cancelling reservations or deferring travel because of delays at government checkpoints. Pearson Airport has already made their needs clear, and today we are urging the federal government to act on them.”

Omar Alghabra Minister of Transport
Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport

Feds: It’s not us, it’s you.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has his own explanations for the long lineups plaguing Canada’s major airports.

The minister told media in Montreal that out-of-practice pax are the ones slowing down lineups. “Taking out the laptops, taking out the fluids — all that adds 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there,” he said, causing exponential delays.

Alghabra also said that airport agency staffing is at 90 per cent, while air traffic is only at about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, implying the problem doesn’t rest with Ottawa to solve.

The head of McGill’s aviation management program debunks that theory. John Gradek explained to the Canadian Press that it’s not necessarily about flight volumes averaged out across all of Canada’s airports.

“Air Canada and WestJet, they’re both basically operating significantly greater numbers of international flights,” that land at Canada’s major – and most backlogged – airports, like YVR and YYZ, where the volume of pax is actually approaching pre-pandemic levels.

An increase in domestic flights adds to the logjam at departures. Gradek points out that Air Canada is flying two flights more per day between Toronto and Vancouver than in 2019, “and instead of having a Dreamliner with 200 seats, you’ve got a 777 with 350 seats,” Gradek said. “There are a lot more passengers on those airplanes.”

The Minister of Transport also blamed airlines changing flight schedules as they ramp up their operations and pax book last minute. Large numbers of flights departing and landing close together contribute to the pressure on airport operations, he said.

“CATSA used to rely on a six-month forecast when it comes to labour allocation. Now they need to rely on a 72-hour, 48-hour volume prediction. They’re adjusting,” Alghabra said.

Lynn Elmhirst

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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