The federal government “must act quickly” to address issues causing long wait times and delays at Canada’s airports, Mississauga officials and the operator of Toronto Pearson said Monday.
Mississauga’s political and business leaders made the calls for change as Tourism Week kicks off in Canada.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, as well as representatives from the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (the operator of Pearson), Tourism Mississauga, and the Mississauga Board of Trade, said more must be done to ensure travellers are not facing long delays.
“From staffing shortages to onerous pandemic policies, the federal government must act quickly to address issues plaguing airports,” a statement said following a morning press conference from the officials.
The statement said while the local leaders thank the federal government for recently announcing plans to increase the number of Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) screening officers, it will take time until that begins to alleviate pressures.
For weeks, GTAA has been calling for changes to be made.
The Transport Minister’s office told Global News that Transport Canada is working closely with CATSA and others in the air industry to address delays.
“Notably, Transport Canada has convened a committee to find tangible solutions to improve these bottlenecks,” it said.
“Key players in Canada’s air sector are working together to ensure resources available are allocated in the most optimal way, and continue to strategize on longer-term efficiencies for security screening. With the recent hires of 400 new screening officers by CATSA, Transport Canada has supported a more flexible onboarding program for these officers to be trained and working more quickly.”
The statement said they are working with the CATSA and all partners “to create effective short and longer term solutions to these issues.”
Last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino released a joint statement highlighting measures the government is taking to address wait times.
They said CATSA is nearing 100 per cent of their target for screening officers for the summer at Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International Airport.
“While more remains to be done, these efforts are paying off through declining wait times for screening,” they said.
They also noted 25 CBSA kiosks are being added at Pearson to help process international arrivals.
‘Short-term fixes can be instituted immediately’
But the officials in Mississauga said Monday that “short-term fixes can be instituted immediately” and would make a big difference for international travellers.
Those include removing mandatory random COVID-19 testing at airports, as well as the removal of “duplicate health checks and questions.”
“The last two years have been incredibly difficult for the travel and tourism industry,” GTAA board chair Doug Allingham said.
“As travel ramps-up and our airport returns to pre-pandemic volumes, the federal government must continue to act quickly and help solve the issues plaguing air travellers. The summer season is upon us and we need urgent action now. Removing random testing and duplicative health screening questions from airports are steps that can be taken immediately to smooth travel, encourage more passengers to travel to and through Canada and rally the national economy.”
However, Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said mandatory random COVID-19 testing remains “an essential part” of the government’s surveillance program tracking the importation of COVID-19 and identifying any new variants of concern.
“Canada’s COVID-19 border surveillance uses mandatory randomized testing to monitor for new variants of concern that could pose an increased risk to the health and safety of people in Canada,” Jarbeau said.
“In the event that a new COVID-19 variant emerges in the future that may cause more severe illness or has vaccine-escape characteristics, there may be a need to reinstate some border measures. The government will consider what measures are necessary to protect public health.”
Jarbeau said COVID-related restrictions and requirements are “continuously reviewed” to ensure they are relevant to protecting Canadians’ health and the government has recently begun to “slowly and carefully” reopen.
“There are various reasons for the current backlogs and bottlenecks for the passenger flows at Pearson airport,” Jarbeau said.
“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 for potentially longer wait times and delays….
“We are aware that during peak times, wait times for testing at the airport can be longer.”
Jarbeau said international travellers must complete ArriveCAN and pre-register with testing providers prior to entering Canada as a means to expedite their entry. She said pre-registering does not have an impact on selection for testing.
Passengers sometimes facing hours of delays
Those calling for changes Monday said international passengers at Pearson Airport have been forced to wait up to three hours during peak periods, often onboard aircrafts, before heading to the customs hall.
Last week, 6,000 travellers had to wait more than an hour on planes before heading into the airport and more than half of all arriving international passengers — 112,000 people — “experienced some form of delay last week,” their statement said.
While improving over the past week with more staffing, wait times to clear security for departing passengers have also been lengthy, with longer than 60-minute waits during peak periods, the statement said.
The officials said delays at airports are the first impression of a country, and “run counter” to the view that Canada is a place for investment and an international destination.
“Mississauga tourism can no longer afford to be weighed down by unnecessary, obsolete pandemic policies that lag far behind our international counterparts,” said Trevor McPherson, president and CEO of the Mississauga Board of Trade.
“Left unaddressed in the immediate term, the frustration travellers are experiencing will have detrimental and long-lasting impacts on Mississauga’s tourism industry and Canada’s reputation internationally.”