Hour-long wait times at Toronto’s Pearson airport could be a blow to Canada’s largest city’s post-COVID-19 recovery, a group of business leaders warned Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference, they also highlighted customs and security issues and called on the federal government to hire more at the airport, a simplified ArriveCan app and the abolition of random testing. for COVID-19.
“In the past week alone, more than 100,000 people — 50% of travelers transiting through Toronto Pearson — have experienced significant delays,” said Jan De Silva, president and CEO of the Toronto Chamber of Commerce. Toronto area.
“International passengers are forced to wait up to three hours, sometimes inside the plane they flew in, due to longer processing times by customs officials.”
According to De Silva, these challenges reflect staffing shortages and outdated pandemic policies that are creating unnecessary delays.
Officials say long security lines at several Canadian airports lately are the result of staff shortages.
Christopher Bloore of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario says processing by government agencies at the airport that before the pandemic took an average of 30 seconds for arriving passengers now takes up to two minutes.
“These health checks happening at airports are outdated and contributing to these never-before-seen wait times,” Bloore said.
“These public health measures could be lifted immediately to address the issues at Canada’s largest airport. Monitoring for potential variants of COVID-19 can be done through proven scientific options, such as community sewage testing, which is widely supported by the medical community.
Bloore fears that if swift action is not taken to resolve the problems at the airport, Toronto could lose its international stature, depriving businesses of the money they rely on from international business travelers and tourists.
“The federal government must step in and fix this problem. There can be no more delay,” he said.
“Will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians”: CBSA
A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) would not comment on the staffing shortages, saying the agency does not share staffing information for individual ports of entry.
Rebecca Purdy says that while the CBSA takes appropriate steps to ensure there are enough resources available to properly manage the border, the convergence of flights arriving at the same time, combined with border health measures, can increase overall processing time.
“This means travelers to Canada may experience longer wait times at the border,” Purdy wrote in an email to CBC News.
“The CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians in the name of border wait times. The Agency thanks travelers for their cooperation and patience.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says COVID-related health restrictions and requirements are continually being reviewed to ensure they are up-to-date and relevant to protecting the health and safety of Canadians.
The agency says there are various reasons for the current passenger backlogs at Pearson Airport.
“As the volume of travelers increases, the Government of Canada has worked to boost efficiency and additional capacity at the border. However, travelers should still be prepared for potentially longer wait times and delays. “, said the agency in an email.
“We are aware that during peak hours waiting times for airport tests may be longer.”
PHAC says travelers arriving by air are encouraged to complete their ArriveCAN submission and pre-registration with test providers before travel to expedite their entry into Canada.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) told CBC News on Thursday that at the start of the pandemic, it had nearly 7,400 screening officers across the country. That number has dropped to approximately 6,500 active, pre-certified screeners today.
“CATSA is targeting the hiring of approximately 1,000 screening officers this year, in addition to more than 1,200 recalled in 2021,” spokeswoman Suzanne Perseo wrote in an email.
“Hiring efforts were launched last year, we provided additional classrooms to support greater training capacity. Training and certification can take weeks. We have also placed pre-certified screening officers in screening queues and on screening lines in non-screening functions to optimize resources.”
Toronto can’t afford it. Canada, and we, cannot afford it.– Edwin Frizzell, General Manager, Fairmont Royal York, Toronto
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) says there is an urgent need to ensure that the CBSA and CATSA at Toronto Pearson airport have personnel to handle passenger loads and recovery.
“We are therefore delighted that the federal government has established industry task forces and ask that they act quickly to develop solutions for a successful summer,” spokeswoman Rachel Bertone wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. -mail.
Edwin Frizzell, general manager of the Fairmont Royal York, says Toronto gives visitors their very first impression of Canada, adding that “at the moment our first impression unfortunately lets us down” due to the many challenges guests and visitors face. are facing the Pearson Airport.
“I fear that this bad first impression will keep people from returning to Canada or that stories of bad experiences here at the Toronto airport will force travelers to consider other places and destinations instead,” a- he declared.
“Toronto can’t afford it. Canada, and we, can’t afford it.”
Frizzell says the federal government should act urgently to address the challenges currently plaguing airports across the country.
“From what I hear from my counterparts across the country, this is no exception. Instead, long wait times and issues at airports hamper the traveler experience in Montreal. , Vancouver and Calgary,” he said.
Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), says the association has received reports of travelers canceling reservations or postponing travel due to airport delays. This, she says, creates an additional obstacle to recovery efforts.
She says the future of tourism and Toronto’s tourism industry hangs in the balance.
“Our industry has suffered enough,” Paradis said.
“It is time for the government to address the resource shortages and finally remove the old COVID-19 policies that are only slowing us down.”