Montreal / Toronto – In Canada’s busiest airport, Toronto, plagued by unusually long lines, a global airline trade group has called on Canadian authorities to take action to prevent long queues for hours before the upcoming summer travel season.
Airports from Canada to England are wrestling with long-lines and delays, as the workers’ crisis, coupled with growing travel demand following an epidemic-induced recession, threatens chaos in some areas ahead of the busy summer season.
In Canada, frustrated passengers have taken to social media in recent weeks to express their frustration, posting pictures and videos of long lines of customs and security and piled luggage at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
These images provoke further calls for relief, as passengers arrive early, or skip the airport before the long holiday weekend for Victoria Day on May 23.
On Friday morning, vehicles were backed up about 500 meters (0.5 km) to the airport’s Terminal 1 departure area, where hundreds of passengers were waiting to arrive at the security checkpoint.
A passenger from New Delhi said the passengers were detained at the gate for an additional 20 minutes due to the customs line. Such delays have stuck some planes for hours.
“Passengers are anticipating the forecast and paying a security fee for efficient processing,” said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) regional vice president of the United States in a May 17 letter to three Canadian ministers.
“Unfortunately, due to the extra crowds of passengers arriving this past weekend, in some cases the plane was stuck for more than 185 minutes.”
An IATA spokesman declined to comment.
Extended processing time
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) expects an increase of about 50% in international passengers at Pearson this summer.
Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said the number of frontline customs officers at Canada’s three largest airports had declined even before COVID-19, with widespread use of self-service processing technology, creating lineups in 2019 and increasing traffic.
“It’s slowly gotten worse,” Weber said. “We had a little break during the Cavid but now that we’re out, it’s just as bad as before.”
WestJet Airlines, Canada’s second-largest carrier, said it expects to fly more than 55,000 passengers on Friday, the highest one-day total of the carrier so far this year.
The Office of the Minister of Transportation of Canada said in a statement that there are now around 400 new screening officers at various stages of their training across the country. Transport Canada has formed a committee to improve airport operations and reduce waiting times.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says it does not share staff information for specific entry points but takes steps to provide adequate resources.
“However, the uniformity of flights arriving at the same time, sometimes due to early or late arrival of the flight, may increase the overall processing time in conjunction with the border health system,” the agency said in an email.
On Friday, Swedish airport operator Swedavia warned on its website of a long wait due to staff shortages at security checkpoints, affecting Stockholm’s largest airport, Arlanda. In late April, airlines were asked to cancel weekend flights to avoid chaos due to congestion at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
John Gradek, a faculty lecturer in aviation management at McGill University, said that while airports could cope when travel was low, they could no longer afford fast fares.
He said that despite having such national technology, the time required to process passengers has increased due to health checks.
“Unfortunately technology cannot answer all these questions,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then.
(Reporting by Allison Lampart in Montreal and Kiao Soo Oo in Toronto. Additional reporting on Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm. Editing by Danny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)