Have a flight and heard about long delays? Here's what you need to know

With many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted after two years of very little domestic or international travel, Canada's major airports have seen a surge in travellers and, as a result, longer than normal wait times to get through security.

Travellers advised to arrive at some of Canada's major airports up to 3 hours before their flights

Long lines of travellers are seen at Vancouver International Airport, on Sunday. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Let's face it. Travelling by air has been an exercise in patience for the better part of the past two decades.

And now, with many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted after two years of very little domestic or international travel, some of Canada's major airports — including Vancouver International and Toronto Pearson — have seen a surge in travellers and, as a result, longer than normal wait times to get through security.

Part of the issue is a shortage of security screeners, according to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the agency responsible for screening passengers and their luggage.

"Screening resources are scheduled according to airline traffic. Prior to the pandemic, resources could be cross-utilized more efficiently between the Transborder and Domestic and International checkpoints due to staggered passenger peaks," Suzanne Perseo, a spokesperson for CATSA, said by an email.

"As air travel recovers we are observing simultaneous peaks, which can result in passengers flooding more than one security checkpoint at a time, making the redistribution of resources to address these passenger volumes more challenging."

The union representing CATSA workers told CBC News the agency is having problems retaining employees. "It's low wages and challenging work conditions," said Dave Flowers, president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 140.

The transport minister says the government is providing resources to increase staffing, but that the lines are going to be long for the next little while. 

"I don't think that we're going to immediately be able to resolve this," Omar Alghabra said Monday. "We're directing the resources as quickly as we can. It's going to take some time to ramp up."

Here are some tips to make your air travel a little easier:

How early do I need to arrive at the airport? 

Right now, travellers are being advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before international flights

CATSA provides current wait times for airports in 14 Canadian cities on its website

Cindy Horton, an independent travel agent with the Travel Group in Vancouver who's worked in the industry for 40 years, says it's hard to pinpoint just one factor causing the delays. 

"I actually think it's a combination of things," she said. "Normally, you just go to the check-in counter, you'll be funnelled into security and off you go. But now, because things are slow, they're rerouting people, the signage is confusing, people are going into the wrong line up, wasting more time there, missing flights. So there's a number of different factors."

Her advice: be early and be prepared. 

"Have your check-in procedure done and your boarding card in hand," she said. "Anything that can be done in advance will just move things along. Where [travellers] run into trouble is when people haven't done that, and so somebody arrives and they don't have the paperwork and then everybody else kind of gets backed up from there."

What can you do in advance?

Update your ArriveCAN app. It was modified on April 25 to reflect the updated rules. 

Upload your required information to the app before you get to the airport, within 72 hours of your travel. If you don't have a smartphone, print out your ArriveCAN receipt and bring it with you. 

Check in online if you can and have your boarding pass ready on your phone or printed out and in hand. 

Travel agent Cindy Horton advises people to be prepared, arriving at the airport with boarding pass in hand and proof of vaccination uploaded to the government app. (Colleen Wood)

What are the current COVID-19 requirements?

Whether you are flying domestically or internationally, all travellers 12 years old and up must show proof of vaccination to board a plane in Canada. 

"Vaccinated" is defined as having at least two shots of an approved vaccine, and having received your second dose at least 14 days prior to your travel. 

The government provides a brief checklist to know whether you are ready to fly. In addition to the vaccination requirement above, you must: 

  • Be ready at any point in your journey to show your official proof of vaccination. If you are unsure what constitutes official proof, you can find out here. Each province and territory has its own proof of vaccination. 
  • Have no signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Follow public health advice, such as wearing a mask.

Even if you are flying from or into a small airport, you may need to show proof that you have been vaccinated. If you aren't sure, the government provides a list of airports where you will need to show proof of vaccination

WATCH | Transport minister on those long airport lines: 

Airport delays to last 'weeks': Transport minister

2 months ago
Duration 4:40
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says it could take several weeks before long security lines start to ease at some of Canada's busiest airports.

What about travelling to Canada?

Whether you are coming to Canada as a visitor or returning home by air (or land, or water, for that matter), you will need to provide your proof of vaccination using the ArriveCAN app or by registering online within 72 hours before your arrival in Canada. 

If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to provide a negative COVID-19 test. 

As of April 25, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children under age 12 are also no longer required to provide a valid pre-entry COVID-19 test result, as long as they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult.

Travellers arrive at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, April 20. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"I know it's been frustrating," said Alghabra. "The travel measures that we had in place over the last two years to protect their health and safety has reduced travel. Now people are, understandably, wanting to travel again."

Horton says it's all about managing her clients' expectations. 

"Letting them know that it's not going to be smooth, that there's a chance they may miss their flight, and [walking] them through the process so that they're really prepared for it. And then if they decide to book the trip, then they're usually just fine with that."

WATCH | Left in the lurch by long lines:

Vancouver airport security screenings leave travellers facing long lineups

2 months ago
Duration 2:16
Passengers with flights departing from Vancouver International Airport are being asked to arrive hours ahead of their scheduled flights as security screenings caused delays.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian