March Break ramped up over the weekend (March 10-12) at Toronto Pearson airport (YYZ), which considers the holiday period to be one of its busiest times of the year.
To help passengers prepare, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates the facility, alongside the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), shared tips for lessening the impact of high traffic volumes.
It’s necessary. Last year, when the demand for travel spiked after COVID restrictions lifted, Canada’s busiest airport, plagued with staffing and operational challenges, was unable to cope with the heavy flow of passengers.
During that spring and summer, flight delays and cancellations were common.
A lot has happened since then, however. Pearson and its partners have introduced many tools to make the airport experience easier.
This includes YYZ Express (an online reservation program for security lines); Mobile Passport Control, or “MPC” (an app for submitting U.S. customs forms in advance); a wait time dashboard; and Advance Declaration for Canada customs via ArriveCAN.
Last Friday (March 10), the GTAA was anticipating at least 125,000 passengers per day during the March Break weekend.
This represents roughly 85 per cent of pre-pandemic volume seen during March Break in 2019, the authority said.
Flight cap fail
But beyond time-saving tools, the GTAA has also decided to limit flights during peak travel times – like March Break.
The GTAA has not shared details on this cap limit and, as PAX previously reported, Canadian airlines are saying the plan, generally speaking, will not have an immediate impact on operations.
But the union that represents roughly 12,900 employees in the air transportation sector, Unifor, is not pleased, saying the strategy fails both passengers and airport workers.
"The GTAA is punishing the traveling public by limiting flights and services as a band-aid solution to airport congestion, instead of fixing the problem by implementing common sense solutions to improve job quality and hire needed workers," said Unifor National President Lana Payne, in a press release on Friday (March 10).
"We need to end the chaos in airports – but a travel cap merely limits supply instead of meeting the demand. At the core of things, this is a failure to keep the aviation industry attractive to workers."
"Surely, the industry can do better”
Unifor said it has repeatedly called on the aviation industry to change its failing workforce strategies by ending the practice of contract flipping and paying airport workers a living wage.
The GTAA first announced the caps in August 2022 as a stop gap measure to limit baggage handling and security screening needs during peak times
"Seeing that the plan hasn't evolved since first announced last summer, shows just how little effort government and industry are putting into solving the underlying problems." noted Payne. "These measures just contribute to angry and frustrated travellers. Putting on a cap today isn't relieving the pressure for air travel tomorrow."
Unifor said it has provided recommendations to airlines, airports, and the federal government consistently over the years.
“The problems facing the industry are not new but were exacerbated by decisions made during the pandemic to treat the workforce as disposable instead of with respect for the work they do,” the union says.
The union is asking Ottawa to require a minimum living wage at Canada's airports, "which would be $23.15 at Toronto Pearson," end the worst effects of contract flipping by implementing full successor rights, limit the number of ground handling companies that can operate at the airport and develop a solution to the escalating problem of on-the job-harassment.
Unifor also maintains that employers including in air traffic control have been relying on extensive and unfilled overtime to avoid hiring, putting higher demands on the remaining controllers.
"The effects of operating with no resilience in the system have resulted in chaos and now a limit on supply," said Payne. "Surely, the industry can do better."