Toronto airport security delays easing

Major departure delays at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have ebbed, but two federal ministers are still demanding security screeners cease any job actions that could cause more snarls on the long weekend.

Federal labour minister demands workers cease 'illegal' job action

'All of Terminal 1 is a line,' a passenger said of his experience flying out of Toronto airport on Friday. Job action by security screeners caused delays. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Major departure delays at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have ebbed, but two federal ministers are still demanding security screeners cease any job actions that could cause more snarls on the long weekend.

Passengers began to face the delays Thursday when employees for Garda Security, the private firm that handles pre-flight passenger screening, implemented a work-to-rule campaign because of a dispute with their employer over scheduling.

Passengers were grouped and sent through security according to their flight times. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The delays were averaging two to three hours to get through security in Terminal 1 and less in Terminal 3 on Friday afternoon, but had mostly abated by Friday evening. One flight to New York City earlier Friday was held up for five hours because of the lineups at security.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and Minister of State for Transport Steven Fletcher called on the screeners to stop their tactics, maintaining that the job action is an "illegal strike." Raitt said she has appointed a federal mediator to help resolve the dispute.

"I expect the parties to fully co-operate with the mediator," she said in a release Friday evening.

About 10 per cent of departures from Pearson were cancelled on Friday, and the airport had been warning passengers to check the status of their flights before heading there.

International flights hit hardest

Airport spokesman Scott Armstrong said the airport was working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, the federal agency that oversees airport passenger screening, to find a solution. But Armstrong couldn't indicate when the underlying issues would be resolved.

The delays affected domestic and cross-border travellers, Armstrong said. Extra airport staff were called in to hand out water to frustrated travellers stuck in the backlog.

In an emailed statement, Boston-based Garda said it was doing all it can "to mitigate the effects of the work slowdown" at Pearson, adding that the company's managers were on the line to assist in the screening process and were "working relentlessly" to improve the situation.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News the labour disruption caused a slowdown that was "especially pronounced on international flights," which have the most stringent security.

"What's really compounding this is that it's Thanksgiving long weekend," he said.

"We're really urging CATSA and the service provider to get this resolved as quickly as possible [to] avoid further disruptions."

Waiting lines choreographed

People who showed up late were rushed to the front of the line so they didn't miss their flights. 

One traveller advised others to take their time and drop all expectations that arriving early would help them beat the crowds.

"Don't be here early, because you're going to have what happened to me," he said. "You're going to get to the gate thinking that you're going to beat the crowd, and they're going to make you go and sit somewhere. So better to arrive maybe two-and-a-half hours before your flight, and you wait for four hours because they're going to delay the flight to meet you."

A report in the Toronto Star said Garda won an injunction from the Canada Industrial Relations Board on Thursday that "prohibits workers from slowing down on the job." Garda could not be immediately reached for comment.

Craig Lathrop arrived at Terminal 1 at 6:30 a.m. ET for a 9 a.m. flight to St. Louis. At 8:50, he said he was still waiting in a long line.

"All of Terminal 1 is a line," he said. "It goes from one end to the other."

"I've been here all morning, and we are probably two hours, I'd say at least, before you get to where you would normally start."

Airport officials assembled people departing at the same time into groups to go through security. That way, everyone who was supposed to leave at 5 p.m., for instance, was kept together — regardless of their destination — and could head through security in the most efficient way possible under the circumstances.