Toronto Mayor John Tory has joined the chorus of travellers who are fed up with the longer-than-usual wait times currently plaguing Toronto Pearson International Airport.
“The situation at the airport is not acceptable as it presently is. It’s just not acceptable,” Tory told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday morning (June 7). “This is not just a Toronto problem. [Pearson airport] is the gateway to all of Canada.”
Tory said he’s spoken to Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) CEO Deborah Flint as well as Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra and Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendocino about Pearson’s issues, which, as per reports in recent weeks, have included passengers waiting for hours to get to their gate and others missed connecting flights due to prolonged holding times on board an arriving aircraft.
The GTAA, for instance, says that in the second week of May, some 18,000 arriving international passengers at Pearson were held on board longer than 30 minutes, and 3,000 longer than 75 minutes.
And last month, the travel plans of “around 100,000 passengers per week” passing through Pearson airport were disrupted, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) pointed out recently,
IATA has called on the Canadian government to scrap COVID restrictions at airports to help improve the flow of passenger traffic.
In recent weeks, the GTAA, which oversees Pearson’s operations, has suggested that some of the blame has to do with staffing shortages at security screening checkpoints and Canada customs.
The problem unfolds as border rules around the world ease up and the pent-up demand for travel – after more than two years of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions – takes hold.
“It is not fair to the rest of the country"
Minister Alghabra told reporters in Ottawa yesterday that the federal government wants to fix the situation as soon as possible, noting that it has the “greatest sense of urgency.”
He said airport staff are working “tirelessly” to get people moving through the airport and that the government is doing what it can.
“I know it’s frustrating. We’re going to do everything we can to provide the resources they need, to help logistically, to provide the support they need,” Alghabra said.
The Minister’s words come one week after federal officials unrolled actions the government plans on taking to help alleviate wait times at Canada’s airports.
The strategy includes Ottawa adding roughly 400 screening officers at security checkpoints, opening more border kiosks and removing randomized COVID-19 testing for international arrivals connecting domestically.
Pre-certified screening officers are also being deployed on non-screening functions so certified ones can focus their efforts on key security functions, Ministers Alghabra and Mendicino said in a joint statement on May 27.
Mayor Tory, yesterday, said he was “confident” that the backlog at Pearson will be “fixed as quickly as possible,” stressing Toronto’s role as an economic engine in Canada.
“It is not fair to the rest of the country, let alone to Toronto, to have Toronto experiencing these difficulties because we are going to be key to the country’s economic recovery,” Tory said.
Minister Alghabra took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce that "more help is on its way!" to airports, noting that Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has now hired more than 850 new agents across Canada.
"This will help get you through security faster and on your way to your destination. We will keep working to reduce wait times at airports," Alghabra tweeted.
The "worst place on earth"
The Mayor’s comments came days after a video posted to Twitter by former NHL player Ryan Whitney detailing a night of delays he faced while trying to get to Boston went viral.
The video, in which Whitney calls Pearson the "worst place on earth," illustrates just how bad Pearson’s problems have been for some passengers.
In the video, a frustrated Whitney recapped his ordeal trying to catch a connecting flight to Boston and spending “six hours” in a line waiting for help after his first flight was cancelled.
The former NHLer said he was eventually rebooked on another flight the next morning, only to be rebooked once again on an earlier flight without being notified of the change.
The video, which was posted Monday night (June 6), has since racked up almost two million views.