Sunday,  August 7, 2022  12:39 pm

Ottawa to add 400 screening officers, ease randomized testing to reduce airport wait times

Ottawa to add 400 screening officers, ease randomized testing to reduce airport wait times
From left: Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra. (File photos)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Government of Canada will add roughly 400 screening officers at security checkpoints, open more border kiosks and remove randomized COVID-19 testing for international arrivals connecting domestically in an effort to reduce wait times at Canadian airports, federal officials announced Friday (May 27).

The actions were revealed in a joint statement from Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra and Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino.

The update comes as Ottawa faces heightened pressure to intervene after weeks of operational challenges at Canada’s major airports – Toronto Pearson, in particular – whereby air passengers have faced longer-than-usual wait times at security and, in some cases, have missed flights.

"The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers,” Alghabra and Mendicino’s statement read.

A long security line seen at Toronto Pearson airport earlier this month. (Twitter/@MatthewGreenNDP)

The duo noted how it’s “great news” that more Canadians are “choosing to travel,” acknowledging that as passenger volume surges, delays at customs, security screening, luggage handling, airline services, taxis and limos are occurring.

“We are also witnessing similar phenomena at other airports around the world,” the statement read.

READ MORE: Int’l flight delays at Pearson jumped by 275 times last month compared with 2019

Referencing a collaboration with airports, carriers and other partners to find solutions, Alghabra and Mendicino outlined actions the government is taking to address the air passenger wait times, which the International Air Transport Association (IATA), earlier this week, called “unacceptable.”

Fixing “pressure points”

For starters, an outbound screening committee involving Transport Canada (TC), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has been formed, officials said.

The group, according to Alghabra and Mendicino, will tackle “pressure points,” such as the bottlenecks that are happening at pre-board security and pre-clearance departure areas.  

READ MORE: GTAA calls on feds to end arrival testing, boost staffing levels to ease airport wait times

Additionally, CATSA says there are about 400 additional screening officers in different phases of their training across Canada who will be deployed between now and the end of June.

Ottawa has issued an action plan to reduce airport wait times. (Pax Global Media)

These recruits will undergo a “flexible onboarding process” so they can get started right away, officials said.

CATSA also notes that it is “very close” to recruiting 100 per cent of their target numbers of screening officers for the summer in many airports, including Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International.

READ MORE: ACTA calls on feds to tackle airport, passport delays; Canadian air travel intensifies

Pre-certified screening officers are also being deployed on non-screening functions so certified ones can focus their efforts on key security functions, officials said.

"While more remains to be done, these efforts are paying off through declining wait times for screening,” Alghabra and Mendicino said.

The remarks reflect a change in tone for Minister Alghabra, who, earlier this month, said out-of-practice travellers – combined with last-minute bookings and large volumes of flights leaving and arriving at the same time – were to blame for airport delays. Not a lack of staffing.

Crowds wait in line at Canada customs at Toronto Pearson in December 2021. (Amanda Beaver)

Since the beginning of May, the number of passengers waiting 30 minutes and more for outbound screening at Canada’s largest airports (Toronto Pearson, Vancouver International, Montreal Trudeau and Calgary International), has been “halved across all four airports,” Alghabra and Mendicino said. 

The politicians added that the government is working to also reduce the amount of time passengers are being held on planes at Toronto Pearson on arrival.

Earlier on Friday, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which oversees Pearson’s operations, revealed that in the second week of May, roughly 18,000 arriving international passengers at Pearson were held on board their aircraft longer than 30 minutes, and 3,000 longer than 75 minutes.

Additionally, the GTAA said it held 2,204 planes from abroad last month versus just eight during the same period in 2019.

The “Summer Action Plan”

CBSA and Toronto Pearson will add 25 kiosks to speed up processing time, said Alghabra and Mendicino.

CBSA is initiating a “Summer Action Plan” to ensure efficiency, which includes boosting officer capacity and easing the return of Student Border Services Officers.

PHAC, meanwhile, will remove the requirement for mandatory random COVID-19 testing on the international to domestic connections process, officials said.

What travellers can do

Alghabra and Mendicino noted that airports, airlines and government departments are improving communications with travellers so “passengers can better anticipate pre-boarding screening and arrival processing requirements.”

They also noted actions travellers can take to help speed up airport processes.

READ MORE: Police called to YYZ to deal with “angry mob of people from all over the world”

Travellers arriving at YYZ and YVR, for instance, can use the Advanced CBSA Declaration on the web version of ArriveCAN to make their customs and immigration declaration up to 72 hours in advance of flying into Canada.

This feature will be integrated into the ArriveCAN mobile app this summer and will also be made available at other airports across Canada in the coming months, Alghabra and Mendicino said.

All travellers arriving in Canada from international destinations must still complete ArriveCAN. (Pax Global Media)

All travellers arriving in Canada from international destinations must still complete their ArriveCan questionnaire.

“Travellers who arrive in Canada without having completed ArriveCAN contribute significantly to border congestion,” Alghabra and Mendicino said.

Regardless of vaccination status, a traveller who arrives without an ArriveCAN receipt is “considered an unvaccinated traveller,” meaning they have to test upon arrival and day eight and quarantine for 14 days, the politicians notes.

READ MORE: Out-of-practice travellers, uneven flight volumes causing airport delays, says Alghabra. Not staffing levels

Travellers without an ArriveCAN receipt may also be subject to enforcement, including a fine of $5,000, the government says. 

“The simplest thing travellers can do to speed up their airport experience is to come prepared, including completing ArriveCAN,” Alghabra and Mendicino said.

Travellers 16 years old or older can also use the new eGates at Toronto Pearson International Airport to verify their identity and submit their customs and immigration declaration, “which will improve the traffic flow at the Terminal 1 arrival hall and speed up processing.”

“We need to do more—and we will"

Alghabra and Mendicino said they recognized “the urgency of the situation,” calling wait times at airports “a matter of priority.”

Referring to Ottawa’s action plan, “some progress has been made,” they said.

“But we recognize we need to do more—and we will.”

Their plan unfolds as air travel in Canada intensifies.

According to new data from Canada Border Services Agency, the total number of commercial air travellers arriving in Canada between the week of April 25 and May 1 sits at 459,412, up from 26,866 during the same week last year and 12,610 in 2020.

That’s 17 times higher compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, CATSA is currently advising passengers to arrive at the airport “well in advance of their flights” – two hours for domestic and three hours for U.S. and international destinations.

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