A group of business leaders warned Thursday that hours-long waits at Toronto Pearson Airport could be a major blow to the post-COVID-19 recovery for Canada’s largest city.
While speaking at a press conference, they also highlighted issues with customs and security, and called on the federal government for more airport appointments, a simplified ArriveCan app, and the removal of random testing for COVID-19.
“In the past week alone, more than 100,000 people – 50 per cent of travelers traveling through Toronto Pearson – experienced significant delays,” said Jan de Silva, president and CEO of the Toronto District Trade Board.
“International passengers are forced to wait up to three hours, sometimes inside the aircraft they boarded, due to long processing times by customs officers.”
According to De Silva, these challenges reflect staff shortages and outdated epidemic policies that create unnecessary delays.
Officials say the long security queues at many Canadian airports lately are due to a staff shortage.
Christopher Blore of the Ontario Tourism Industry Association says processing by government agencies at the airport used to take an average of 30 seconds before the pandemic for arriving passengers, and now takes up to two minutes.
“These health checks that take place at airports are outdated and contribute to unprecedented waiting times,” Blore said.
“These public health measures can be lifted immediately to address problems at Canada’s largest airport. Monitoring of potential COVID-19 variants can be achieved through proven scientific options, such as community wastewater testing, which is widely supported by the medical community.”
Bloore worries that if quick action is not taken to fix problems at the airport, Toronto could lose its international standing, depriving companies of the money they depend on from international business and tourists.
“The federal government needs to escalate and resolve this issue. There can be no further delay,” he said.
‘Will not harm the health and safety of Canadians’: Canada Border Services Agency
A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) would not comment on the staffing shortage, saying the agency does not share employment information for individual ports of entry.
Rebecca Purdy says that while the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is taking appropriate measures to ensure there are sufficient resources available to adequately manage the border, the convergence of flights arriving at the same time, combined with border health measures can increase the overall processing time.
“This means that travelers to Canada may face longer wait times at the border,” Purdy wrote in an email to CBC News.
“CBS will not harm the health and safety of Canadians for waiting times at the border. The agency thanks travelers for their cooperation and patience.”
Public Health Canada (PHAC) says COVID restrictions and health requirements are constantly reviewed to ensure they are current and relevant to protecting the health and safety of Canadians.
The agency says there are various reasons for the current backlog of passengers at Pearson Airport.
“As the volume of travelers increases, the Canadian government has worked to build additional efficiencies and capabilities at the border. However, travelers still need to prepare for longer wait times and delays,” the agency said in an email.
“We are aware that during peak times, waiting times for testing at the airport can be longer.”
PHAC says travelers arriving by air are encouraged to complete their ArriveCAN submission and pre-register with test providers prior to travel as a way to expedite their entry into Canada.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) told CBC News on Thursday that at the start of the pandemic, it had nearly 7,400 screening officers across the country. That number has dropped to nearly 6,500 active, pre-approved screening officers today.
“CATSA aims to hire approximately 1,000 screening officers this year, in addition to more than 1,200 recalled in 2021,” company spokeswoman Susan Percio wrote in an email.
“Recruitment efforts began last year, and we have introduced additional classrooms to support more training capabilities. Training and certification can take weeks. We have also placed pre-certified examination officers on triage waiting lists and on triage lines in non-screening positions to improve resources.”
Toronto can’t stand this. Canada and we can’t afford it.– Edwin Frizzell, General Manager, Fairmont Royal York, Toronto
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) says There is an urgent need to ensure that both CBSA and CATSA at Toronto Pearson are equipped to support and recover passenger loads.
“We are therefore pleased that the federal government has established industry working groups and are asking them to move quickly to develop solutions for a successful summer,” company spokeswoman Rachel Burton wrote in an email Thursday.
Toronto provides visitors with their first impression of Canada, says Edwin Frizzell, general manager of the Fairmont Royal York, adding that “at the moment, our first impression unfortunately fails us,” due to the many challenges guests and visitors face at Pearson Airport.
“My concern is that this bad first impression will prevent people from returning to Canada or that stories of bad experiences here at Toronto Airport will force travelers to consider other locations and destinations instead,” he said.
“Toronto can’t afford this. Canada, and we, can’t afford it.”
Frizzle says The federal government must take urgent action to address the challenges currently plaguing airports across the country.
“From what I hear from my peers across the country, this is no exception. Instead, long wait times and problems at airports are hampering passenger experiences in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary,” he said.
Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), says the association has received reports of travelers canceling reservations or postponing their travel due to airport delays. This, she says, creates another obstacle to recovery efforts.
She says the future of Toronto’s tourism and tourism industry is at stake.
“Our sector has suffered enough,” Paradis said.
“It’s time for the government to address the lack of resources and finally remove old COVID-19 policies that are only slowing down our work.”