Federal government moves to fix airport delays that are cramping tourism's comeback
Authorities will fast-track training for security screening officers and open new customs kiosks
The federal government is rolling out new measures it says will address delays at airports that have caused some travellers to wait on planes for hours after their arrival and miss their flights altogether.
Airport workers — from taxi drivers to baggage handlers — are struggling to keep up with demand now that more Canadians are travelling because COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said.
"What we're seeing is significant surge in demand and supply is catching up to it," the minister said in Ottawa Monday.
Alghabra announced new measures on Friday to ease the pressure on airports, which include:
Fast-tracking the training of 400 new security screening officers who will be on the job at airports across the country by the end of June.
Allowing security screening officers who are not yet certified to do non-screening work.
Adding 25 new border services kiosks at Toronto's Pearson International Airport to speed up processing time.
Removing mandatory random COVID-19 testing for passengers with international-to-domestic connections.
'People had to put food on the table'
Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, says labour shortages are the tourism industry's biggest hurdle right now. The industry has lost about 400,000 of the two million workers it employed before the pandemic.
"A lot of them took their skills and went to other industries during the pandemic that were much more stable and could offer guaranteed hours and guaranteed pay," Potter said in an interview.
"Our industry was one that was hit with fluctuating restrictions, you know, closed down, opened up, closed down … People had to put food on the table."
She said the government is making progress to increase staffing levels, but it would also help to invest in housing and transportation infrastructure and to lift the vaccine mandate for federally-regulated industries.
The staffing shortages, combined with a surge in pent-up demand and public health measures like mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app, have sent wait times at airports soaring.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority says it held 2,204 planes from abroad on the tarmac in April versus just eight in the same period before the pandemic. In the second week of May alone, some 18,000 international passengers arriving at Pearson were held on board longer than 30 minutes, and 3,000 were held for longer than 75 minutes.
The government says some wait times are already starting to improve.
"Since the beginning of the month, the number of passengers waiting 30 minutes and more for outbound screening at our largest airports (Toronto Pearson International, Vancouver International, Montreal Trudeau International and Calgary International), has been halved across all four airports," according to a Friday statement from Transport Canada.
Wait for passports extended as demand surges
But one agency not mentioned in the government's announcement was Service Canada, which processes applications for passports. Service Canada is warning Canadians on its website that wait times are longer than normal because of the high volume of applications.
Jonathan Ratcliff, 18, is stuck in British Columbia while his friends stay in a castle in Ireland because his passport didn't arrive on time.
Ratcliff says he applied for his passport on March 3 and was assured by a Service Canada employee that it would arrive before his May 10 flight to London. But it didn't come.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "We should have a system in place to accommodate for big surges of applications."
With files from CBC's Alison Northcott, CBC's Simon Dingley and The Canadian Press