The operator of Toronto Pearson airport is calling on the federal government to make changes amid “extreme wait times” being faced by passengers.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) said in a statement that it is “extremely proud” of the way employees have “shown up” throughout the pandemic, but is aware of delays that both departing and arriving passengers are facing.
The GTAA suggested there are different factors contributing to longer than normal wait times, namely staffing shortages and ongoing COVID-19-related public health requirements.
The statement noted that there are three government checkpoints within Pearson itself: pre-departure screening, which is conducted by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA); preclearance for U.S.-bound passengers, which is done by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (U.S.-CBP); and customs clearance for passengers arriving from an international destination, which is done by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and has additional requirements established by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
“Wait times for departing passengers at security screening points are being negatively impacted by staffing challenges at CATSA,” the statement said.
“U.S.-bound travellers are impacted both by CATSA and USCBP staffing shortages. Moreover, international arriving passengers are facing bottlenecks and very lengthy delays in border processing—a direct result of legacy public health requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To prevent severe passenger congestion, airport and airline staff are forced to hold passengers on planes and deliberately meter the flow of arriving travellers into the customs hall for processing by CBSA, a process that we know and appreciate is incredibly frustrating for passengers.”
The GTAA said airports have been “ringing the proverbial alarm bells” about layoffs and the resulting labour shortage, comparative lack of investment in the sector, projects that have been deferred, and financial challenges faced as a result of the pandemic.
The GTAA wants to see the federal government make various changes to improve the situation.
The statement called on the feds to “invest in the necessary government agency staffing and technology to achieve globally competitive service level standards,” and work with the U.S. to ensure U.S.-CBP staffing returns to pre-pandemic levels.
The operator said it also wants public health requirements at airports to either be streamlined or eliminated — including random testing upon arrival.
“Recognizing aviation’s importance to the national economy and global perceptions of Canada, we need government’s immediate help to support air sector recovery so we can once again proudly welcome the world,” the GTAA said.
Government ‘has and will continue to support’ air sector: Transport Minister’s office
Global News contacted the CATSA, PHAC, and Transport Canada to see if they would provide a response to the GTAA statement.
In a statement sent to Global News, the Office of the Minister of Transport said the government “has and will continue to support” the air sector.
“We know that Canadians have been experiencing long lines and delays at airports across the country,” the statement said.
“As the air sector continues to recover, staffing remains an issue that the industry is working as quickly as possible to resolve….
“We are in touch with airports, and Transport Canada has been closely engaged with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to ensure actions are taken to resolve the delays as quickly as possible.”
The statement said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is meeting with the CEO of CATSA next week to “further discuss” the issue.
“The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is well aware of this issue, and have put in place additional measures to increase staffing levels in the coming weeks. We understand Canadians may be frustrated by this situation, and ask that they remain patient as we work hard with CATSA to resolve this issue,” the statement concluded.
In a separate message, Transport Canada said Government of Canada officials are working with their U.S. counterparts and stakeholders in the air sector “with the aim of restoring preclearance staffing levels that are in line with the demand for travel to the U.S.”
COVID health requirements ‘continuously reviewed’: PHAC
Meanwhile, Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for the PHAC, told Global News in an email that COVID-19-related restrictions and health requirements are “continuously reviewed.”
“In recent months, we have slowly and carefully started to reopen and restart activities as the virus changes, we are adjusting our strategy,” Johnson said.
Johnson said there are “various reasons” for delays at Pearson and acknowledged that at peak times, wait times for mandatory random COVID-19 testing “can be longer.”
“As traveller volume increases, the Government of Canada has worked to build efficiencies and additional capacity at the border. However, travellers should still be prepared (to) potentially face longer wait times and delay,” the email said.
Johnson said international passengers are encouraged to complete ArriveCAN and pre-register for COVID-19 testing providers prior to their arrival in the country in order to speed up their entry.
“Pre-registering for the test has no impact on selection for mandatory randomized testing,” Johnson said.
He said the government continues to look for possible efficiencies, “such as alternative locations for on-arrival testing of fully vaccinated travellers.”
The CATSA and has not responded to Global News’ request for comment.
On Monday, amid reports of long security lines at Pearson, CATSA suggested that several factors are to blame for the delays.
The Crown corporation said in a statement that they are “not immune” to recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the broader aviation industry.
“CATSA has been actively supporting its screening contractors … as they take additional measures to ensure effective recruitment and candidate development,” the agency said.