Canada’s transport minister is speaking out about the “unacceptable issues” that continue to result in significant delays at Canadian airports after images surfaced on social media showing hundreds of pieces of luggage piled up at Pearson International Airport.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson, told CP24 on Tuesday that a number of issues over the past several days have led to “challenges with baggage,” including “flight delays and cancellations, staff shortages and temporary mechanical disruptions with the baggage system.”
So far dozens of people have spoken out about losing their luggage at Pearson, including one woman who told CP24 that her bag was lost once on the way to Phoenix and then again on the way back to Toronto, resulting in a frustrating “suitcase scavenger hunt” that ultimately proved fruitless.
There have also been numerous images shared on social media showing huge piles of luggage in the baggage claim area at Pearson, which travellers have had to search through in the hopes of finding their missing bags.
“What we are seeing today is that while many of those Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and Canadian Border Security Agency issues have significantly improved we continue to see delays, cancellations and luggage issues,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters at an unrelated announcement in the GTA on Wednesday. “I have had conversations with the four largest airports and the two largest airlines just on Thursday and I will be having follow up conversations with them soon. They know that they need to add more resources and they are working on that and we are offering our support to address these issues. But these are unacceptable issues.”
Pearson has been plagued by delays for months now amid increased demand and some staffing shortages.
Alghabra said that at this point the federal government has done everything in its control to address the issues at airports, including increasing staffing at customs and at security checkpoints.
He said that his government is also looking at “possibly extending the suspension” of random COVID-19 testing, which was supposed to be lifted on July 1.
That, he said, is because it is taking longer than expected to address the logistics of moving the testing off-site.
“What we are seeing is the surge of demand for air travel beyond what anybody expected and that is honestly good news. But the surge in demand is outpacing the ability for airlines and airports to enhance the resources that they need to accommodate that surge,” he said. “So we are working with airlines and airports to ensure that the resources needed, that the scheduling adjustments that are needed are addressed. Because we are also seeing extreme peaks at certain hours of the day.”
Tory says he will speak with Air Canada about issues
Many of the luggage issues at Pearson have reportedly involved Air Canada flights.
In a statement provided to CP24 on Tuesday, Air Canada said “that avoiding baggage delays is a top priority” as they are “disruptive and inconvenient” for customers and lead to added costs that the airline ultimately has to bear.
But they said that with the “well-documented issues” plaguing airports and resulting in last-minute flight cancellations there are simply more instances of delayed bags.
In another statement issued Wednesday evening, Michael Rousseau, the airline's president and CEO, said that Air Canada is reluctantly reducing its schedule in July and August "to reduce passenger volumes and flows to a level we believe the air transport system can accommodate."
"This was not an easy decision, as it will result in additional flight cancellations that will have a negative impact on some customers. But doing this in advance allows affected customers to take time to make other arrangements in an orderly manner, rather than have their travel disrupted shortly before or during their journey, with few alternatives available," Rosseau said.
He went on to apologize to customers who have experienced interruptions, saying that the airline is focused in addressing the issues.
“I think the overall record is better today at the airport than it was a few weeks ago and I think there is every reason to believe that progress will continue,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday when asked about the issues at Pearson. “I am not personally familiar with the precise way baggage is handled but certainly from my limited knowledge it occurs to me that most of the responsibility rests with the airlines, so I will, undertake in light of what has happened to be in touch with Air Canada and find out from their perspective what the problem is, what they are doing to solve their part of it and if they believe that governments in the broadest sense can be helpful in making things work better so those baggage issues don’t arise.”