Travellers at YVR feel lucky after flight out of Hong Kong before COVID test rules

GTAA urges feds to pause random testing as int’l passenger numbers set to increase by 50%

TORONTO — Appreciate the effort, and it’s making a difference, but more needs to be done.

That’s effectively what the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is saying to the federal government in response to a statement from Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, Randy Boissonnault, and others amid ongoing delays at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.

Yesterday’s statement from the federal government, issued by Alghabra and Boissonnault along with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, says: “The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers. We are working with airports, air carriers, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season. The goal is to streamline services for inbound and outbound passengers, so Canadians can travel smoothly and safely as the sector recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our efforts are having an impact – as wait times for security continue to decrease at all major airports. While we are seeing some issues at Toronto Pearson International Airport that we have raised with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the vast majority of airports across the country are not seeing similar delays. Even then, thanks to the efforts of Pearson Airport, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), and air sector workers, only three per cent of all passengers at Pearson and Vancouver International Airport are now waiting more than 30 minutes in line.”

The statement from the feds also outlines measures taken by the federal government to alleviate the delays, including …

  • A task force to find solutions to address bottlenecks at pre-board security screening and pre-clearance departure checkpoints, and customs halls, comprised of Transport Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the CBSA CATSA, and key industry partners
  • An increase in the number of CATSA screening officers. The federal government says CATSA staffing levels are almost 100% of summer targets at both Pearson and Vancouver International Airport, where wait-times have been the worst. Hiring continues, with 644 new CATSA recruits in the four largest airports, and 865 total across Canada. Almost 2,000 applications for screening positions are being processed.
  • Streamlining operations via PHAC with CBSA and partners when it comes to ArriveCAN.  The use of ArriveCAN by travellers before coming to the airport helps remove unnecessary delays, says the government. PHAC is adding additional staff on select days at airports to verify that travellers have completed their ArriveCAN submissions on arrival and further inform air travellers about the importance of the mandatory requirements. The requirement for mandatory random testing on the international to domestic connections process was lifted on June 1.
  • Airports, airlines, and security providers are working with CATSA to adjust scheduling to ensure screeners are available during peak periods.
  • CBSA and the GTAA have made 25 kiosks available in the customs hall areas at the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
  • CBSA has increased officer availability, and Student Border Services Officers are now at work.
  • TC, airports and airlines have increased communication with travellers and stakeholders through social media, signage and multimedia screens to better prepare passengers for the pre-boarding screening and arrival processing requirements, facilitating a smoother passage in and out of airports.

The statement ends with: “The Government of Canada is committed to welcoming new visitors, supporting the air transport sector, and growing the Canadian economy. We will continue to take quick and decisive actions to ensure that Canada is ready to welcome back domestic and international tourists while prioritizing their safety and wellbeing. We recognize that we have more work to do, particularly for international arrivals at our largest airports, and we will continue to work with all orders of governments and partners to reduce the delays in the travel system.”

GTAA’S RESPONSE

The GTAA’s response? Essentially this: Thank you, but more needs to be done, especially when it comes to random testing for arrivals.

“The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) thanks the federal government and Ministers Alghabra, Duclos, Mendicino and Boissonnault for their commitment to reduce delays for arriving and departing passengers at Canada’s hub airports, and for the progress that has been achieved. Their response to our request for the addition of more Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers is making a difference,” says the GTAA in a statement issued this morning.

The GTAA goes on to say: “The recognition that more work is required by the government to address international arrivals is also welcome. In a few days, international passenger numbers are set to increase by 50%. In anticipation of a new wave of business and family travellers we urge the government to act immediately to temporarily pause random testing on arrival in airports for an immediate improvement until upgrades to the government’s ArriveCAN app have been made.”

According to the GTAA’s stats, in May 2022 some 2,700 arriving flights were affected by metering or holding, affecting the travel plans of more than 490,000 international arriving passengers. Travellers are being further delayed because of the time it takes to select passengers for random testing, says the GTAA.

The GTAA says it is collaborating with the government on concrete solutions and is taking “every conceivable step to ensure the airport is ready this summer.” This includes deploying more staff to aid in the processes that have been introduced during the pandemic, with CBSA adding more kiosks in the Canada Customs Hall, and hiring additional staff.

Deborah Flint, the GTAA’s President and CEO, had this to say: “The stakes have never been higher, and the world is watching. We’re thankful for the steps that the federal government has taken and their recognition that more needs to be done. This is about much more than Toronto Pearson; it’s about global perceptions of our country and the risk that Canada will lose billions of dollars from tourism and business activities if travellers decide that coming to Canada this summer simply isn’t worth the hassle.”

Flint added: “Toronto Pearson’s challenges are unique simply due to scale by virtue of the fact that we are Canada’s largest airport and global hub for connectivity all over the world, with much higher volumes of passengers and, importantly, more international passengers than any other Canadian airport. We are committed to collaborating with all partners to implement concrete solutions.”

The lineups and delays at Pearson Airport in particular have become a lightning rod in recent months, as frustration with the situation grows. At the end of May the federal government outlined its plan, after everyone from CATSA to the GTAA to ACTA to IATA had weighed in. Viral social media videos of fed-up passengers navigating the delays, including a high-profile former NHL player, is adding fuel to the fire. In the wake of that video, Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke out as well, saying: “The situation at the airport is not acceptable as it presently is. It’s just not acceptable. This is not just a Toronto problem. [Pearson] is the gateway to all of Canada.”

The delays, frustration and missed flights are especially galling coming on the heels of two years of pandemic travel restrictions that devastated Canada’s travel industry.