'The time to act is now:' Business leaders want random COVID testing scrapped at Pearson amid significant delays
Published Thursday, May 12, 2022 10:26AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 12, 2022 10:26AM EDT
A group of business leaders are calling on the federal government to remove pandemic restrictions at Pearson International Airport which they say are contributing to the hours-long delays that many travellers have faced in recent weeks.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has warned travellers to show up at least two hours prior to their departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead of time for international flights as it deals with a myriad of issues that are causing long lineups at security and in the customs area at Pearson.
It has suggested that staffing issues at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority are causing intermittent delays in the pre-boarding security area at the airport. But it has also said that COVID-19 health checks, including random testing, is slowing down the processing times for inbound travellers clearing customs.
In some cases that has led to travellers being kept on their planes for hours while the backlog at the customs area is cleared.
“Over the past week alone more than 100,000 people, 50 per cent of travellers moving through Toronto Pearson, suffered extensive delays. International passengers are being forced to wait for up to three hours, sometimes inside the aircraft they flew in on because of longer processing times by customs officers. These challenges reflect staffing shortages and outdated pandemic policies that create unnecessary delays,” Toronto Region Board of Trade President and CEO Jan De Silva said during a press conference on Thursday morning. “When the need was there we did the right thing and we protected travelers and our economy by putting new policies in place. But now to realize our potential we must act now to reduce the duplications, withdraw the restrictions that were put in place and fully reopen our economy.”
Pearson International Airport is now seeing approximately 30,000 international arrivals each day as the travel industry gradually comes back to life following two years of pandemic restrictions.
The GTAA has also said that it expects the daily number of international arrivals at the airport to rise to 45,000 by this summer, potentially contributing to “unsustainable” further delays.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Tourism Industry of Ontario President and CEO Chris Bloore said that something needs to change before “we lose our international stature” and risk “depriving businesses of the money that they count on from international business travellers and tourists.”
“If you haven’t traveled I'm sure you've heard from a loved one or a friend about the terrible experience they have come to experience when visiting Pearson. Their travel experience will have a detrimental and lasting impact on how they may perceive traveling to Toronto and Canada on the international stage,” he warned. “Before the pandemic processing by government agencies at the airport took on average 30 seconds for arriving passengers, today it takes up to two minutes. These health checks happening at airports are obsolete and contribute to these never seen before wait times.”
Other airports also reporting delays
Pearson International Airport is just one of several Canadian airports reporting significant delays as travel volumes pick back up.
On Wednesday federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters that the Canada Airport Security Agency is increasing staffing in response but he noted that with daily flights still at 70 per cent of their pre-pandemic level it is not likely the main reason behind the delays.
Instead, Alghabra suggested that out-of-practice travellers causing delays at security checkpoints could be a contributing factor.
For their part, the business leaders who spoke at Thursday’s press conference contended that the federal government needs to speed up processing times at airports.
“The time to act is now,” Fairmont Royal York General Manager Edwin Frizzell said. “We are finally seeing positive signs in our sector and we cannot afford to have a controllable issue set us back even further as the summer season kicks off.”