Regular travel and current public health measures cannot coexist: Canadian Airports Council
International arrivals at Canadian airports are so high that passengers are held on planes for more than an hour after landing because there is not enough space for the long lines of travellers, according to the Canadian Airports Council.
The council blames COVID-19 protocols and called on the federal government to remove random testing and public health questions at customs to ease the significant delays passengers face when arriving in Canada.
The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people when they arrive than before the pandemic, acting council chair Monette Pasher said. It used to be nice when people weren’t travelling, she says, but now it’s become a serious problem.
“We are finding that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we resume regular travel,” she said.
The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held up in their planes on Sunday while waiting their turn to line up at customs.
Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, while other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.
Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a time-consuming process, she said, and space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 testing, she said, especially since testing is rarely required in the community.
“To resume regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two cannot co-exist without significant strain and strain on our system,” Pasher said.
Govt. working on delays, minister’s office says
In a statement released to CBC News, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was trying to address the delays.
“We are delighted that Canadians are excited to resume travel and we know there is still work to be done as the sector continues to recover. We will continue to work hard with airports, CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) and airlines so the travel industry can rebound,” the statement said.
Specifically, the government hopes more screening staff will address the delays and has set up a committee to investigate the problem.
“Transport Canada has worked with CATSA to develop a plan to increase the number of screening officers at passenger checkpoints,” the statement said.
“Transport Canada has also created the Airport Operations Recovery Committee. With participants from major airlines and airports, as well as CATSA, the committee studies the causes and recommends solutions to reduce wait times at airports.
The statement pushed back against a rumor, posted on Twitter, that the federal government had asked airlines to cut their schedules in response to congestion.
“We can confirm that our government has never asked and will not ask airlines to reduce their flight times,” he said.
Public health measures have risen and fallen during the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. At present, they are the least restrictive in months, with vaccinated travelers only being tested randomly.
Still, the requirements are not in line with those of peer countries, said Conservative transport spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman. She said she wanted to know why the Canadian government was acting on advice different from the advice used by other countries.
“We do take the government at its word that it is receiving advice and acting on it, but it hasn’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.
She said long delays at airports send a negative message to travelers and she worries about the impact this will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get back on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.
“It tells you to go somewhere else, that we’re not open for business,” she said.