Strong demand for air travel by passengers after more than two years of being grounded by pandemic restrictions is causing long wait times at major airports in Canada. Security lineup delays at Canada’s biggest airports, including Toronto Pearson and Vancouver, is one of many challenges facing the travel and tourism industry as it starts on the road to recovery.
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) CEO Mike Saunders has apologized for the inconvenience to air travellers resulting from the recent increase in wait times.
“CATSA is currently experiencing the pent-up demand for air travel occasioned by the pandemic. This follows two tumultuous years that resulted in a significant number of layoffs throughout the aviation industry, including the security-screening workforce,” he said.
CATSA, which is the federal crown corporation responsible for all passenger security screening, is experiencing ongoing staffing shortages, which is contributing to long lines and lengthy delays in processing passengers through security screening.
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, have come together with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to call on the federal government to urgently address government agency issues plaguing travellers at Toronto Pearson.
They want the government to immediately address resource challenges with CATSA and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and to streamline international arrivals by eliminating what they are calling legacy Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) measures and to move randomized COVID-19 testing off-airport.
“Canada’s travel industry, including travel agencies and independent travel agents, is just beginning the long road to recovery. It is essential that travellers have an efficient airport and passport process. ACTA has received reports of travellers cancelling reservations or deferring travel because of these delays, creating a further obstacle to recovery,” said ACTA President Wendy Paradis. “The onus is on the government to fix this without delay, so that a travel and tourism recovery can recover.”
According to the group, international passengers arriving at Pearson are forced to wait up to three hours, often onboard the aircraft, during peak periods before proceeding to customs. For passengers departing on a flight, wait times to clear security have reached a “staggering” 75 minutes during peak departure times. As the summer travel season approaches, it is expected that these wait times will only get worse.
The GTAA said that it expects the daily number of international arrivals at the airport to rise to 45,000 by this summer, potentially contributing to “unsustainable” further delays.
“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. Hotels are operating at a significantly lower rate than industry averages, and lengthy delays and staff shortages at the airport will exacerbate the problem. International tourism is already limited, and with major events and conventions now being scheduled to take place, we need to make sure our city has the resources and capacity to ensure they can go ahead,” said Edwin Frizzell, regional vice president Accor Central Canada & general manager of Fairmont Royal York at AccorHotels.
Pre-pandemic, CBSA processing at Pearson took on average 30 seconds for an arriving passenger; today, the processing can take up to four times longer. The group blames the increased processing time from two leftover, “non-science-based pandemic relics”: on-airport mandatory random COVID-19 testing for 2,000 international arriving passengers per day and duplicate health checks and questions. These two public health measures could be immediately lifted to address issues at Canada’s hub airports.
“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 in Toronto,” said Jan De Silva, president and CEO of Toronto Region Board of Trade.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Canadian tourism industry lost 300,000 of its 1.7 million jobs in 2020 before recovering more than a third of them last year.