Travelers face ‘chaotic’ delays as Pearson airport navigates long lines, staff issues

Travelers at Toronto Pearson International Airport are urged to exercise a lot of patience on Monday as longer-than-expected lines and Canada-wide staffing shortages cause delays.

“It’s ridiculous – it’s really not well organized,” said Adam Brazier, who is returning home with his family to Prince Edward Island.

“A lot of people are going in the wrong lines right now because there’s no one to tell us which lines to go in.”

Matthew Green, NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, arrived at Pearson Airport about 90 minutes before his 8:10 a.m. domestic flight to Ottawa. He says he arrived to find around 500 people lined up in the airport outside the gate, in what he described as a “disorganized and chaotic conga line”.

What became immediately apparent, Green says, was that the airport was “completely understaffed, unprepared and unable to deal with the bottleneck that was happening there.”

Green missed his original flight, waiting two hours before boarding another.

The airport tweeted Monday morning advising travelers to allow themselves plenty of extra time and check their flight status before departing for the terminal.

“We would like to remind passengers that terminal employees are doing their best to get them on their way,” the airport said in a statement.

Shortage of staff, health checks causing delays

Several Canadian airports have had frustrated travelers in long lines due to a shortage of security guards.

Vancouver has seen particularly long waits, with passengers saying they’ve also missed domestic flights due to security check delays.

In an email to CBC News, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) said it was doing everything possible to fix the problem, but it couldn’t find enough workers.

CATSA, which is the federal Crown corporation responsible for all passenger security screening, says that once it manages to hire enough staff, it will also take time to train them.

Travelers at Pearson Airport are using electronic kiosks to check in for flights on Monday. The airport says Canada-wide staff shortages and health checks related to COVID-19 are causing delays. (Chris Langengarde/CBC)

Pearson also says health checks to cover the surge in travelers have doubled processing times.

Green calls it “completely unacceptable” that the airport could not predict delays as post-pandemic travel picks up speed.

“What I’ve heard from the staff is that it’s now the third day, basically, of chaos there,” he said.

“They knew it was happening but we received no communication from Air Canada to come sooner.”

Expect delays for the next few weeks

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Monday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he shared the concerns of travelers facing delays, as the country continues to see a “huge resurgence in appetite” for trips.

“I am a traveler myself and have seen the queues increase over the past few weeks,” he said.

“Now we are learning that once you turn off the economy, when you turn it back on, it leads to imbalances.”

Alghabra says Transport Canada has worked with CATSA, “ensuring we have the right resources to meet this increase in travel needs.”

Asked when these issues might be resolved, Alghabra did not confirm.

“I don’t think we will be able to resolve this immediately,” he said, adding that it will take at least a few weeks.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he was working with Transport Canada and CATSA to resolve issues causing travel delays, and travelers should start to see “some relief” in the coming days. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Anticipating long lines and a massive influx of travellers, Manvir Jutla arrived five hours early for his 16-hour flight to Vancouver.

“I don’t miss my flight,” he laughed.

Jen Baba is not so confident.

“I’m a little stressed, we [have] a lot of baggage,” she said. “I hope we won’t be late.

Karan Panchal, who is traveling to India, said he still did not know when his flight was due to take off.

“My boarding pass has a different time and my flight time displayed is different,” he said.

“It definitely affected my plan.”