'This airline should be embarrassed AF’: Customers fume, advocates point fingers as chaos erupts at Toronto’s Pearson airport

·4-min read

As Canadians ease back into travel after years of restrictions, many are facing nightmare experiences at the country's major airports. Endless lines up for security checks, long waits on the tarmac and crowds at the luggage carousel are just some of the stories being shared while travelling through some of Canada’s largest airports.

Travellers are taking to Twitter to express their frustration and anger at the long delays and lack of answers, including Ryan Whitney. The former NHL player posted a now-viral video to Twitter on June 6, detailing his hours-long ordeal trying to make his way to Boston through Toronto.

Airline experts and advocates are blaming the chaotic situation on a breakdown of two critical federal services at the airport: airport security, which is run by The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), and custom and immigration, which is run by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Duncan Dee, the former Chief Operation Officer with Air Canada, who has since retired, says he first experienced a two-hour lineup at Pearson back in April, which is traditionally considered to be a slow month for travel. After looking into it further, it became clear that there was a breakdown in security and customs and immigration functions at the airport.

“It seems the federal government failed to properly plan for a return to travel,” he tells Yahoo News Canada.

He says Whitney’s Twitter video prompted the Minister of Transport to become more concerned, and then started looking at increasing resources at the airport. Since June 11 until June 30, the government has also suspended random COVID-19 testing for arriving fully vaccinated international travellers.

In a statement to Yahoo News Canada, a representative for the Minister of Transport said 400 new CATSA agent hires will be working on the ground between now and the end of June, with the additional over 400 new officers (to make a total of 865) recently announced to be deployed as soon as possible over the summer.

Despite these efforts, long waits on the tarmac and customs areas are still being reported.

“If the government is to be believed, all these measures they’ve announced, are supposed to help, but that remains to be seen,” says Dee.

'Who is responsible' for the mess at airports?

Gabor Lukacs, founder of Air Passenger Rights, says it also remains to be determined whether CATSA and CBSA were aware of staffing shortages and kept the information to themselves, or if they shared it with airlines, who chose to sell tickets for flights beyond their capacity levels.

Who is responsible for it? Between CBSA, the airlines and CATSA, they have some kind of shared responsibility…airlines should not be selling more tickets to passengers than how much flow the airport is able to handle.Gabor Lucaks, Air Passenger Rights

While airlines are encouraging travellers to arrive at the airport several hours earlier then they’re expected to take off, Dee suggests they should get there two or more hours before. He also recommends travellers who are heading on cruise vacation schedule their arrival at the destination 24 hours before, to consider any possible delays that could impact their travel.

Lukacs says at this point, Canadians have a social interest in assuring that someone takes responsibility, otherwise travellers will be ending up with the same problems for years to come.

“The ultimate tool to make a business behave is hitting their bottom lines,” he says. “Any adverse effects stemming from their actions are billed back to them. Then they will avoid that type of behaviour.”

He hopes going forward, there is more transparency between the airlines, airports and passengers.

“The information about CATSA flow, performance and staffing should be in the public domain,” Lukacs says. “That should be available on some airport authority website so people can check in in real time. Something simple as that.”

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