One only needed to take a quick glance at social media over the Canada Day long weekend to see that misery and chaos is alive and well at Toronto Pearson International Airport, where cancelled and delayed flights, long lineups and misplaced luggage continue to rock operations.
For many air passengers, faced with long, snaking lines and communication breakdowns with carriers amid altered itineraries, it’s been a “gong show coming and going,” as two travellers, Michael and Patricia Bears, told the Globe and Mail on Sunday (July 3).
At this point, it’s a tale as old as time as Canada’s airports, since early spring, have been at the centre of a media storm as facilities (and airlines), smacked with unbridled demand, grapple with staffing shortages and operational challenges.
Amid a shortage of airline, security and customs workers – a shortfall the Government of Canada says it is addressing – some of the worst delays this past weekend were at Montreal and Toronto’s airports, where check-in lineups reportedly stretched to the entrances of terminals.
The disruptions at Toronto Pearson, for one, have become expected and common, so much so that last week Air Canada slashed roughly 15 per cent of its flight schedule for July and August to “reduce passenger volumes and flows to a level we believe the air transport system can accommodate.”
"Regrettably, things are not business as usual in our industry globally, and this is affecting our operations and our ability to serve you with our normal standards of care," Air Canada President and CEO Michael Rousseau said in a statement last Wednesday.
The (second) worst in the world
But perhaps the most depressing news to come out of Toronto Pearson over the long weekend was that more than half of departing passengers faced a flight delay – the most delays compared to almost every other airport in the world.
According to flight tracking company FlightAware, more than 53 per cent of flights scheduled to take off from Pearson (YYZ) on Sunday (July 3) were delayed.
This marked the highest percentage of delayed flights reported in every major city on the planet, except for one: Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China.
For delayed flights, Toronto Pearson even beat out Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
Air Canada ranked number one in delays on Saturday and Sunday as two-thirds of flights – 717 trips total – were late, FlightAware reported.
On Saturday (July 3), WestJet and low-cost subsidiary Swoop placed third and fourth at 55 per cent, FlightAware recorded.
In a statement to media yesterday, WestJet shared its own breakdown of its long-weekend performance.
On Friday (July 1), WestJet said it saw 38 cancellations out of 575 planned flights; on Saturday (July 2), there were 12 cancellations out of 498 planned flights; and on Sunday (July 3), there were two cancellations (unscheduled maintenance) out of 586 planned flights.
On Monday, WestJet cancelled three flights for unscheduled maintenance out of 575 planned flights.
Last week, WestJet revealed that it “proactively removed” flights from its summer schedule, months ago, anticipating logistical problems amid travel’s restart.
This July and August, WestJet says it will operate 25 per cent fewer flights, averaging approximately 530 flights a day.
“However, there remains significant operational challenges across the Canadian aviation ecosystem that can fall outside of our control, contributing to delays,” WestJet’s media team said yesterday. “Our number one priority is ensuring our guests arrive safely to their destination, as on-time as the current aviation landscape allows for.”
But Canada's two-biggest airlines still face scrutiny for having the poorest on-time performance of the 10 big North American carriers.
As reported in the Globe on Monday, for the 30 days ending on July 3, Air Canada’s planes arrived as scheduled 38 per cent of the time, which is the poorest performance of the major airlines on the continent, according Cirium, an aviation analytics company.
WestJet came in second last, arriving on time 54 per cent of the time.
The strain is being felt at airports all around the world.
If you think Toronto Pearson is a mess, have a look at this TikTok that went viral over the weekend showing a massive luggage pileup at Heathrow Airport in London, England.
Last week, Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced $105 million in funding for technology and infrastructure upgrades for air traffic control, and for four major Canadian airports, with hopes that it will help improve the situation.
"What we are seeing today is that while many of those Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and Canadian Border Security Agency issues have significantly improved we continue to see delays, cancellations and luggage issues," Alghabra said, calling Pearson's operations "unacceptable."
Minister Alghabra, outlining the government's own efforts, shared this message again via Twitter yesterday in a video post.
"We still have a lot of work to do," the Minister said, thanking travellers for their "patience and understanding."