Toronto

Take action to cut delays at Pearson Airport, Mississauga officials tell Ottawa

Mississauga officials called on the federal government on Monday to take immediate action to reduce "unacceptable" wait times at Pearson International Airport.

"It's important that tourists have the best experience possible,' Mayor Bonnie Crombie says

Passengers wait in line at Pearson International Airport. (CBC)

Mississauga officials called on the federal government on Monday to take immediate action to reduce "unacceptable" wait times at Pearson International Airport.

Officials said that action includes an end to subjecting international travellers to random COVID-19 testing and duplicate health screening questions as the summer travel season gets underway.

Businesses that rely on tourism need the airport to process passengers efficiently, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie told reporters at a news conference inside Terminal 1. Crombie and other leaders spoke during National Tourism Week.

"It's important that tourists have the best experience possible," Crombie said. "It's so important that we put our best foot forward, especially here at Pearson, which is the first place that many tourists touch down in our city."

The federal government needs to take steps to address the problem, she said.

"Mississauga's tourism sector, and in fact, the entire province's entire tourism sector, is dependent upon Pearson being able to operate efficiently. That means giving passengers the best experience possible from the second that they walk through those doors."

Crombie said the Canadian and U.S. governments understand that wait times are a problem. She said Mississauga is willing to help those governments find solutions, which she said include eliminating some duplication in screening, security and customs processes as well as making investments to recruit and hire more staff.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie wears a mask ahead of a news conference at Pearson International Airport. (CBC)

The federal Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino released a statement Friday saying their government is taking action to end delays at Canadian airports, including "working with its contractors to increase the number of screening officers at passenger screening checkpoints.

"Currently, there are approximately 400 additional screening officers in different phases of their training across the country who will be deployed between now and the end of June," the statement reads.

The federal ministers also say they are maintaining "adequate security screening," as well as "working with airports, air carriers and other airport partners to find solutions to reduce delays in airports in advance of the summer peak season."

'Travel is meant to be a seamless experience'

Victoria Clarke, CEO of Tourism Mississauga, said Pearson is the gateway for international travellers continuing on to other Canadian destinations. She said the longer processing times are due to two remaining emergency pandemic policies: random COVID-19 testing for international passengers upon arrival and duplicate health checks. 

"The recent travel experience will have detrimental and lasting effects on how our region is perceived on the international stage and is having negative impacts on new international investment for the Toronto region," Clarke said.

"Travel is meant to be a seamless experience," she added.

Passengers arriving in Toronto face long waits to be processed at Pearson Airport. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

"During the height of the pandemic, our sector understood that we needed to make sacrifices for the good of the country, but now that these times are behind us, these obstacles have become impossible to justify."

Clarke said the federal government must act quickly to help solve the "unacceptable issues plaguing our air travellers." 

Before the pandemic, processing took an average of 30 seconds for arriving passengers, but now, that wait can be four times longer, she said.

Wait times impacting business, official says

Trevor McPherson, CEO of the Mississauga Board of Trade, said the delays at Pearson are already having economic impacts. If the federal government doesn't act quickly, the situation could get much worse, he said. Economic success depend on the success of Pearson, he said.

"After years of challenges for our local travel economy and the loss of 94,000 jobs in Mississauga's tourism-related industries during the pandemic, our businesses and visitors rely on a smooth and efficient airport process to access what our region has to offer," he said.

Doug Allingham, chair of the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson Airport, said thousands of travellers have been forced to wait longer than 90 minutes, often on board aircraft, before they have been able to enter the customs hall.

Allingham said nearly half of all international passengers arriving at Pearson faced some kind of delay last week.

"We need urgent action now," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Muriel Draaisma is a reporter and writer at CBC News in Toronto. She likes to write about social justice issues. She has previously worked for the Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal and Regina Leader-Post. She is originally from B.C. Have an idea for a story? You can reach her at muriel.draaisma@cbc.ca.

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