Artificial intelligence technology, boosted staffing and more accountability are among the initiatives Toronto Pearson International Airport has implemented to improve the summer travel experience this year, officials say.
Deborah Flint, the president of and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson, announced the measures Monday after a troublesome summer last year at the airport when travel demand surged as COVID restrictions eased.
“We want Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians and travellers from around the world to know that this summer will be very different and better than summer of 2022,” Flint said at a press conference.
“Our focus since last year has been to rebuild the trust, to regain the confidence of our customers, to bring reliability and predictability to air travel. This comes from how deeply we have heard our customers: the anxiety, the uncertainty, the frustration and the lack of control that was felt by passengers last year is one that we will never forget.”
Flint said this year, Pearson airport and its partners are “simply more ready” to handle the summer travel demand. It’s expected travel volumes will be 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
“This is the first summer in four years that is actually more normal in non-pandemic conditions. And it’s certainly not to say that air travel will be perfect. It is travel, after all,” she said.
“We know there will be disruptive weather. There are still some pandemic spillover effects like labour softness. But collectively, we are far more prepared and coordinated.”
Staffing has increased significantly at the airport, with more than 10,000 new workers since last summer, bringing the total to 50,000, she said. That brings staffing levels to around where they were in 2019, though Flint said times are different now and still encouraged companies that operate at Pearson to “plan accordingly” in the event of labour disruptions, high absenteeism, turn over and attrition. She said the GTAA is fully staffed.
There are also new passenger care teams which will be deployed for “significant irregular events” to focus on passengers care and wellbeing during any disruptions of “significance,” she said.
A “culture of accountability” has been created at the airport, Flint added, with officials working with GTAA’s partners to better understand their readiness and contingency plans.
“There are 400 companies and/or agencies all working here together, and while we don’t control directly what they do, we’re being more visible about our partners, their service and the standards that are expected here at Pearson,” she said.
Flint didn’t say whether that meant penalties could be issued if standards aren’t met; she said the GTAA is working alongside its partners to identify potential issues and find solutions, such as boosting staffing.
Facilities at Pearson are also more prepared, Flint said, with maintenance having been conducted on all conveyances.
The baggage system at the airport has been upgraded, with it featuring artificial intelligence that detects possible breakdowns and overloading before it occurs, a GTAA statement said.
Flint highlighted the different tools that passengers can use to speed up their travel process, including the new e-gates, an expanded YYZ Express which allows passengers to pre-book their spot in a security line, the MPC app which allows pre-submittal of information for U.S. Customs agents at Pearson, or advanced declaration from ArriveCAN, which speeds entry into Canada.
Flint said the airport has already seen improvements, with higher customer satisfaction, faster check-in, better baggage handling and more airlines departing on time.
Flint noted the airport’s on-time flight performance so far this year sits at 70 per cent, which included a smoother March break travel season, following an on-time performance of 35 per cent seen in summer 2022. Earlier this year, the airport authority said it would cap the number of flights into and out of Pearson during peak travel periods in attempt to reduce traffic.
Health protocols that were in place at customs last year, which sometimes saw passengers being held on planes to limit the number of individuals in the airport, also don’t exist anymore, she said.
Better information on screening times and potential flight delays or cancellations, as well as proactively managing the volume of flights on an hourly basis are other measures the airport has taken.
The GTAA thanked the federal government for assistance in improving the aviation sector, but said further improvements are possible such as getting additional pre-clearance U.S. customs agents.
— With files from The Canadian Press