Toronto airport boss tries to rally staff amid ongoing disruptions


The head of Canada’s busiest airport tried to rally staff on Thursday amid ongoing disruptions and delays, but warned they would face more angry customers if trouble at Pearson International Airport continues.

Deborah Flint, chief executive of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), urged hundreds of airport and airline personnel to “please take heart” as they “continue to work on the challenges.”

“For every passenger that many of you see expressing their frustration for you, or maybe they do it on social media, there is another group of passengers who have nothing but gratitude for all that you and your colleagues do,” Flint said to applause. during the staff event.

Her speech, heard from a public area at the airport, followed two months of trouble at the Toronto airport, where many passengers have faced flight delays, cancellations and hours-long security bottlenecks.

The GTAA, which operates the airport, and airlines blame a lack of security personnel, ongoing federal COVID-19 restrictions and restrictions on aircraft movements.

A man walks past a flight information screen in Pearson on Thursday. (Esteban Eduardo Cuevas Gonzalez/CBC)

“There’s an expectation that we can just turn the wheel and get things back to how they were before the pandemic,” Flint said.

But “travel today just isn’t like it used to be.”

Her comments came three days after former NHL player Ryan Whitney crystallized the frustrations of many travelers and took to Twitter at both Pearson (“the worst place on earth”) and Air Canada after his flight to Boston was canceled.

GTAA Chief Operating Officer Craig Bradbrook told CBC News it was “heartbreaking” to read reports from travelers about missed flights to their vacations and family reunions.

“This is not how we want to operate an airport; it is not the level of service we want to provide as an airport to the traveling public,” he said.

“A lot of effort has been put in over the past few weeks and we’re seeing improvements and waiting times are getting shorter… There’s obviously still a lot of work to be done, but we’re on the right track.”

‘Fast’ and ‘quiet’

International travelers who arrived in Pearson on Thursday told CBC News it took just minutes to clear customs and collect their luggage.

Meenu Salvan, who traveled from New York City for a wedding, described her arrival as “very calm”.

“I’ve been to worse airports, so you’re good in that regard,” she said.

But others who followed the advice of airport officials to arrive extra early for their flights ran into other problems.

A woman checks her phone after arriving in Pearson on Thursday. The Canadian Border Services Agency has urged travelers to complete their ArriveCAN form before flying to Canada to avoid delays. (Esteban Eduardo Cuevas Gonzalez/CBC)

Nathan Sterback arrived at the airport late Thursday, four hours before his flight to Edmonton. “They recommended three, but my work was around the corner and I thought I might as well wait here,” he said.

He then found out that baggage check wouldn’t open for another 40 minutes – so he had to wait a little longer to go through security.

A man receives a COVID-19 test at the airport on February 1, 2021. Every day, about 2,000 travelers are randomly selected for mandatory testing at Pearson. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dina Sowers was randomly selected for mandatory COVID testing after flying in from Miami with her husband and father-in-law to visit Niagara Falls.

The process was “very smooth,” but added an unwanted delay to their journey, Sowers said. “I just want to get in the car and go…but I understand the safety behind it.”

Each day, approximately 2,000 passengers are randomly selected from approximately 35,000 arrivals at Pearson. The GTAA and airlines have been calling on the federal government since early this year to end arbitrary testing.

“It remains quite a challenge,” Bradbrook said, adding that after months of talks with the federal government, “arrangements are being made” to move tests from the airport grounds to ease congestion.

Other travelers expressed confusion about the COVID-19 pre-departure testing requirements, with some saying they found the ArriveCAN app challenging to use.

“We’re seniors, so we’re not techies… It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Craig Metcalfe, who was traveling with his wife from Williamsburg, Virginia.

People check in at Pearson on May 12. The Greater Toronto Airport Authority has repeatedly called on the federal government to bolster airport security personnel and lift pandemic travel measures, which it says are causing the delays. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Airlines are also calling on the federal government to lift further pandemic restrictions, including scrapping vaccine mandates for airline personnel — a move they say would help boost the aviation workforce to speed up airport processing.

“We remain deeply concerned about the state of service by government agencies at our air borders and security checkpoints,” WestJet said in a statement, calling the problems at Pearson “unacceptable”.

The federal government announced last month that it would accelerate training for 400 new security researchers who would start working at airports by the end of June, as well as adding more border services kiosks at Pearson.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said processing times at the airport were exacerbated by multiple flights arriving at the same time and by travelers who failed to complete their ArriveCAN forms before reaching the arrivals hall.

“The CBSA will not jeopardize the health and safety of Canadians because of border wait times.”