International flight delays jump by 275 workers at Toronto Pearson Airport

The number of delayed international flights on arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport jumped 275 times last month compared to April 2019.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said it loaded 2,204 planes from abroad on the tarmac last April, compared to just eight planes in the same period before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff shortages at security and customs checkpoints along with public health protocols have led to soaring airport wait times as passengers are dumped into the skies after two years of pent-up demand.

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In the past month, delays on the tarmac have often resulted in intermittent unloading of passengers from a particular plane on arrival to ease the burden on terminals that are packed to the berth. Meanwhile, departing passengers can find themselves waiting for hours to get to their gate, with scenes of long security queues and stories of missed flights on social media.

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In the second week of May alone, about 18,000 international passengers arriving at Pearson were held on board for longer than 30 minutes, and 3,000 for longer than 75 minutes.

“We are asking the government to implement solutions as the summer season anticipates an increase of approximately 50 percent in the number of international travelers,” authority spokesman Ryan White said in an email.

“Without government intervention to reduce border screening and processing times, passengers will face more congestion and longer aircraft hold-ups – a situation that is already unsustainable.”

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The authority, which operates the country’s largest airport, is calling on the federal government to scrap public health requirements such as random testing on arrival and invest in staffing and technology to improve passenger clearance times.

In a joint statement, Transportation Minister Omar Al-Ghubra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged delays ranging from security screening to baggage handling, noting that the problem was not limited to Canada.

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Transport Canada has created an “Outside Inspection Committee” made up of government agencies and industry stakeholders to address bottlenecks at security checkpoints.

Ministers said Air Transport Security Canada, which manages airport security screening, aims to increase the number of screening officers, with an additional 400 personnel in various stages of training to be deployed by the end of June.

“CATSA is very close to setting 100 percent of target numbers of screening officers for the summer at several airports, including Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport,” their statement read.

“While much remains to be done, these efforts are paying off by reducing waiting times for screening.”

Since May 1, the number of passengers waiting more than 30 minutes for departure checks at Canada’s four largest airports – in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary – has halved, the ministers added.

Al-Ghabra said earlier this month that other culprits of the choking checkpoints include out-of-practice travelers and more last-minute bookings by passengers who remain apprehensive about sudden public health measures, throwing a concern on the staff schedule.

However, the Canadian Airports Council chief says staff levels are the number one obstacle to airport jams.

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“The challenge here — the key piece — is action, being able to employ those peaks and being smart enough to make it work,” Monette Bacher said earlier this month.

Domestic airline seat capacity for May was expected to be 85 percent of 2019 levels, according to the council’s forecast, and 78 percent domestic, U.S., and global overall. The council expects the latter figure to reach 90 percent in July.

Several airports and Air Transport Security Canada have encouraged passengers to arrive well in advance of departure, and Vancouver International Airport has advised them to arrive three hours early.

© 2022 Canadian Press

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