Because of the recent surge in travel, airport congestion has been an issue airports around the world are facing together for the past few months, and thousands of travellers’ itinerary has been affected. As Christmas approaches, some airlines have made changes to improve service.
Airlines and passengers have been criticising the lack of airport staff and security officers for the delays. Since April, CATSA, the security agency in all airports in Canada, has hired over 2000 security agents, with over half of them still in training. Airlines and the federal government have been desperately trying to solve the problems. However, endless lines, flight disruptions, lost luggage and chaos have been a daily routine in the main-four Canadian airports: Toronto Pearson, Vancouver International, Calgary International and Montréal-Trudeau Airport.
In July of this year — one of the busiest times to travel — I travelled through Vancouver International Airport, flying with Air Canada, which was named one of the worst airlines in North America this summer by passengers. They have been known for operational dysfunction and poor customer service.
I arrived at Vancouver Airport that morning expecting a good start to my two-month trip to Hong Kong. There were a lot of passengers waiting for customs checks at the departures hall and queues lasted from the restricted areas to the US flights check-in counters. Only two scanning lines were open to handle the large number of passengers and customs officers were doing their best to process the everlasting queue.
My flight out of YVR was delayed for over two hours, which Air Canada said was because of technical issues with the aircraft. No staff was at the gate area, and passengers were confused about what was happening. When we were finally on the plane, we were told that our flight would be delayed because there were not enough tarmac staff to load our baggage. Our flight ended up departing two-and-a-half hours late.
Long lines can be seen at check-in counters. Credit: Edward Kim
Our return flight with Cathay Pacific arrived on time and we parked into our gate within five minutes of landing. Just when everything looked like it would go smoothly, no one knew the nightmare was ahead of us.
When we reached the arrivals immigration hall, we were met with hundreds of passengers who were waiting to enter Canadian borders. Even though I had ArriveCan forms and advanced CBSA declaration forms completed, I still had to line up for over 15 minutes to clear immigration, and there were no staff members to help confused travellers. Some non-Canadian passengers ended up lining up in the wrong queue and had to line up again. After clearing immigration and baggage claim, the arrivals hall was packed with friends and relatives waiting for their loved ones to pass through, which congested the already busy airport to a point that was hard to walk.
In July, Airline Analyst Helane Becke, told Simple Flying that she believed air travel would face difficulties throughout the summer. “Almost every airline encouraged people to retire early or take leaves during the pandemic. And those people that retired early maybe don’t want to come back to work. The airlines also used the pandemic to eliminate aircraft types from their fleet, and to ground and retire their oldest aircraft. As demand continues to surge, we’re basically looking at an inability for the airlines to easily accommodate it. And I think that’s true worldwide,” she said.
Between June 1st and July 18th, 53% departing flights from Toronto Pearson Airport arrived late at their destinations, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. This makes Toronoto Pearson the worst in delays among airports in the world. In Ottawa, the airport has suspended randomised COVID testing for vaccinated passengers due to the need to process international travellers quickly.
As the Christmas travel season approaches, airports are thinking of ways to prevent the events that happened during the summer from repeating itself. Calgary Airport announced YYC Express, a programme that will allow passengers on selected flights to reserve their security screening spot in advance. Toronto Pearson Airport also launched a similar programme called YYZ Express.
Maybe with that will help Pearson Airport get past its reputation as “having the most delays in the world.”
Cover photo by Daniel Lim on Unsplash