Summer is officially underway in Canada, and many are eager to enjoy it on trips here at home or abroad.
COVID-19 rules are easing in Canada, potentially making travelling more appealing for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020. However, the rush to travel has led to severe delays at airports and passport offices around the globe.
Ottawa is working with the travel industry to fix those delays, which have also been felt at airports in other countries amid ongoing labour shortages. But in the meantime, here are some tips to keep in mind when travelling this summer.
Peak summer travel season nearing
After the federal government announced it was pausing vaccine travel mandates on June 14, searches for domestic flights in Canada increased 34 per cent for travel starting on June 20 compared with the week before, according to data from online travel agency Kayak.
Overall travel interest for Canadians over the past two weeks has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, and Kayak is seeing a 108 per cent increase in searches from domestic flights compared with 2019. It expects as more countries drop travel restrictions for international demand to pick up as well.
Peak summer travel season is around the corner, said Richard Vanderlubbe, president of tripcentral.ca.
Typically, Canada’s summer travel season heats up at the end of June and runs until Labour Day before beginning to drop off, he said.
“There was a period of time where no one was booking anything. The restrictions relaxed, and all of a sudden everybody came out of the woodwork,” Vanderlubbe said.
“We’re dealing with going from a stop, or a trickle, to a lot of demand for leisure (travel).”
High demand and labour shortages have combined for serious delays at airports and passport offices in Canada as its travel industry begins rebooting following a two-year hibernation due to the pandemic.
Among the measures Ottawa is taking to help ease the problem include hiring more screening officers to help ease demand at airports, and boosting staff numbers at Service Canada offices to speed up passport processing.
It has also paused random COVID-19 testing at airports until June 30 and will move it offsite starting Canada Day. Service Canada has created a new renewal process for adult passports issued in the last 15 years to cut down wait times.
Canada’s four largest airports, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, have been bracing for a 50 per cent rise in passenger numbers ahead of peak travel season.
As of June 1, those hubs were processing an average of 56,000 inbound passengers from abroad each day, with more than half of them at Toronto Pearson, where scenes of traveller frustration have played out all spring. The figure will hit 80,000 within weeks, according to the Canadian Airports Council.
The government states wait times at the airports are starting to decrease, saying on Monday that roughly 91 per cent of Pearson passengers were screened within 15 minutes. At Vancouver International Airport, 84 per cent of passengers were screened within that time frame.
During the week of May 9 to 15, an average of 23 per cent of departing travellers waited more than 15 minutes to be processed at Pearson, while 26 per cent waited to be OK’d at Vancouver International Airport, the government said June 15.
While officials work on easing these delays, Canadians need to keep a few things in mind during the summer travel season, experts say.
What to keep in mind when planning your trip
“Pack your patience,” said Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
The first thing Canadians should do when planning their trips is to see when their passports expire, she said. If it’s coming up, they should start the renewal process soon to avoid getting caught in a last-minute rush.
Second, Canadians must familiarize themselves with the entry requirements of other nations if they’re travelling abroad, especially since COVID-19 rules are still in effect in some nations, Vanderlubbe said.
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Travellers should also look at insurance options in case their flight gets cancelled, Potter said, adding that if that happens, they should reach out to their air carrier as soon as possible to try and organize a different flight or alternative route of travel.
“These days when so many different things could be affecting your travel, having a good travel insurance policy is a good idea,” Potter said.
In this current situation, travellers need to be well-prepared, said Vanderlubbe.
“If you go in with that mindset, with enough time prepared, it’s not as bad as an experience as if you come in with not enough time, under stress and starting to have bad outcomes like missing your flight or what have you,” he said.
“It is just unfortunately the way it is right now.”
How to navigate delays at the airports
Scenes of travellers waiting in long lines at Canadian airports have played out across the country since the spring.
To avoid that, arriving more than a few hours before your departure time armed with the knowledge of what you need to check in is essential, Vanderlubbe said.
Canadians should get to know what the baggage restrictions are to avoid getting caught up in delays, such as understanding weight limits and what can’t go in carry-on baggage.
“But because people haven’t travelled for a long time, they’ve forgotten a lot of that or didn’t know it if they don’t travel frequently. So we’re seeing large delays getting through security,” he said.
“It’s not just two hours prior (to arriving at the airport) anymore, it’s like three hours prior or more with the correct documentation and a whole bunch of patience to get through the process.”
The federal government has a list of resources to guide travellers through the process, including what you need to know before you go to the airport as well as safety and security when there.
For example, containers of liquids, aerosols or gels in carry-on bags must be 100 millilitres or less. All containers must fit in a clear, closed, resealable plastic bag no more than one litre in capacity.
Though airport delays are playing out in Canada, it’s a problem being seen elsewhere in the world.
Long lines have plagued airports in Europe due to labour shortages. To help with the problem, Dublin and Heathrow airports are recruiting screeners, while Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is raising wages for staff.
Spanish authorities announced earlier this month the hiring of 500 additional police to staff passport controls at busy airports and tourist destinations, including Madrid.
In Portugal, where passengers waited for more than three hours in arrivals at Libson’s airport on June 12, the government plans to hire 238 new border control officers at the country’s six airports by July 4, bringing the total number to 529.
“When you’re standing in that security line, know that you’ve got to get your computer out and any other electronics.… Make sure that you understand all the rules so that you can get through that process as quickly as possible,” Potter said.
“We are all challenged right now with a labour shortage, and we are all trying to ramp back up again. The folks that showed up at work today are the ones that are here, so please treat them kindly and we’ll all get through this together.”
— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters