Sunday,  July 3, 2022  5:28 pm

Air Canada cancels almost 10% of Toronto flights as YYZ faces staffing shortage, passenger surge

Air Canada cancels almost 10% of Toronto flights as YYZ faces staffing shortage, passenger surge
Air Canada cancelled nearly 10% of flights at Toronto Pearson airport during the first week of June, according to aviation data company Cirium. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The rebound in demand for air travel combined with staffing shortages forced Air Canada to cancel nearly 10 per cent of its flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) during the first week of June, according to multiple reports.

As cited in the Globe and Mail on Thursday (June 9), Canada’s flag carrier cut around 350 flights at YYZ in the first seven days of June.

The cancellations were split between arrivals and departures, according to aviation data company Cirium.

The update comes as the Canadian aviation industry grapples with a reduced workforce brought on by more than two years of pandemic-related cutbacks and layoffs while, at the same time, air passenger traffic increases due to the recent easing of travel restrictions.

The burn, in recent weeks, has been felt at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson, where passengers have faced longer-than-usual line-ups at security checkpoints, causing some travellers to miss their flights, as well as unreasonable holding times on arriving aircraft and long waits to retrieve luggage.

READ MORE: Only 3% of travellers at YYZ and YVR are waiting 30+ minutes in line, feds say

Airports, meanwhile, are still required to enforced government-mandated COVID-19 rules in airports – a mandate some in the industry say is slowing operations and causing bottlenecks and inefficacies.  

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick says the airline’s overall completion rate remains high. (Pax Global Media)

The vaccine mandates for employees of federal agencies and airlines have also reduced staff numbers, the industry says, as some employees still refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

(Earlier this week, on Monday, the Canadian Airports Council (CAC) issued a statement calling for the removal of vaccine requirements for air passengers and aviation employees).

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told the Globe yesterday that the airline’s overall completion rate remains high but staffing problems at the government agencies have impacted operations.

READ MORE: GTAA asks feds to “temporarily pause” airport testing; int'l traffic set to increase by 50%

“In some cases, longer security and customs processing times at airports and recurring air-traffic-control limitations imposed on aircraft movements, at Pearson in particular, have forced airlines to cancel flights,” he said.

Fitzpatrick also told CTV News that while the operational problems at Pearson have posed challenges, Air Canada is still moving more than 100,000 customers per day.

"...the world is watching"

Yesterday, The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which manages Pearson airport, made a case for the easing of some coronavirus protocols by asking the federal government for a temporary pause in random COVID-19 testing on arrival until upgrades to the ArriveCan app have been made.

"The stakes have never been higher, and the world is watching," said Deborah Flint, president and CEO of the GTAA, which says that international passenger numbers at Toronto Pearson are set to increase by 50 per cent “in a few days.”

READ MORE: A “chaotic conga line”: Travellers face delays as YYZ grapples with staffing shortage

In May of this year, 2,700 arriving flights were affected by metering or holding, affecting the travel plans of more than 490,000 international arriving passengers, the authority noted.

A long security line seen at Toronto Pearson airport in May. (Twitter/@MatthewGreenNDP)

Toronto Mayor John Tory, earlier this week, also joined the chorus of travellers who are fed up with Pearson's problems. 

“The situation at the airport is not acceptable as it presently is. It’s just not acceptable,” Tory told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday (June 7). “This is not just a Toronto problem. [Pearson airport] is the gateway to all of Canada.”

WestJet Airlines also cancelled three per cent, or about 16, of its arriving flights at Toronto Pearson from June 1 to 7, Cirium said, and ten departing flights were also cancelled.

“We remain extremely concerned with the state of services provided by government agencies at our air borders and security screening points,” WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger told the Globe (Kruger declined to confirm Cirium’s numbers).

Annick Guérard, CEO of Transat, has also confirmed delays at Pearson, as well as challenges in Europe.

Hiring continues

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino and Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault on Wednesday (June 8) reiterated their plan to reduce delays for passengers at Canada's hub airports, stating that progress has been made.

"The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers,” the politicians said in a joint statement. “We are working with airports, air carriers, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season.”

As announced on May 27, Ottawa is adding hundreds of more screening officers at security checkpoints and opening more border kiosks.

And, on June 1, the government removed randomized COVID-19 testing for international arrivals connecting domestically to help reduce wait times.

Air travellers arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Pax Global Media)

Meanwhile, the number of CATSA screening officers has “steadily increased” and is almost 100 per cent of summer targets at both Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International, where wait-times have been greatest, officials said.

“Hiring continues, with 644 new CATSA recruits in the four largest airports, and 865 total across Canada. Almost 2,000 applications for screening positions are being processed,” federal officials said.

The GTAA, yesterday, confirmed that these actions have helped improve the situation at Pearson. 

"Their response to our request for the addition of more Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers is making a difference,” the GTAA said Thursday.

The politicians said “the vast majority of airports” in Canada are not seeing the type of delays that Toronto Pearson is experiencing.  

They also said that just three per cent of all air passengers at Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International are now waiting more than 30 minutes in line.

And while the plan to add more screening officers at Pearson sounds promising, not everyone is buying the strategy.

Speaking to CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Duncan Dee, a former Air Canada executive, summed up the Pearson airport situation using the words “chaos, messy, impossible, difficult.”

"In terms of the customs delays, until the pandemic-era inspections are changed, I hate to think that this is something that's going to plague us through the entire summer," Dee told CBC.

"Things should get a little bit easier for those travelling after Labour Day. Unfortunately, that's also when schools get back so families won't be able to travel as much.”

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