Toronto Pearson International Airport – Canada’s busiest – is having public issues, raising concerns that some people may avoid traveling to the city.
Disgruntled travelers passing through Pearson are talking about their bad experiences on social media, complaining about long lines, flight disruptions and missing luggage.
“Toronto Pearson Airport is a special circle of hell. Worst airport experience ever,” a Florida traveler wrote last week, along with a photo showing a board with more than two dozen delayed flights.
“This is a national disgrace,” said Walid Hejazi, an assistant professor of economic analysis and policy at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “In the short term, this will clearly impact Canadian tourism.”
Due to the sudden increase in travel, airports around the world have experienced congestion and flight disruptions.
But Pearson’s troubles have drawn particular attention, often because the airport ranked first this summer for the highest percentage of flight delays, with 57% of all Pearson flights between June 1 and July 24 being delayed, according to FlightAware’s flight-tracking service. This is the highest figure among the 100 busiest airports in the world.
Montreal Trudeau International Airport came in second with nearly 53% of flights delayed.
Toronto-based Pearson International has won top airport service awards for years, but is now at the epicenter of a global air travel crisis. https://t.co/ uDv3FlDlIl
Like many airports around the world, Pearson’s problems began when demand soared in May and many previously laid-off workers, including federal government employees, did not return, leading to a shortage of staff.
“Aviation jobs are highly skilled, so it’s not easy to hire someone new and get them to the terminal floor or airfield,” Tori Gass, a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), said in an email. The non-profit corporation GTAA operates Pearson.
But this explanation does not console passengers who are experiencing inconvenience.
Philadelphia-based business traveler Eric Griffin says he’s given up on Pearson for now because of his recent travel experience.
Griffin flew from Philadelphia to Toronto on June 27 for an important meeting with a potential client for his phone accessories company.
Everything didn’t go as planned.
After Griffin’s Air Canada flight landed in Toronto, he said he stood on the airfield for at least two hours and then spent the next three hours dealing with his missing registered bag. The bag, which contained important sales-related materials, did not surface until three days after his meeting.
Then Griffin’s return flight was canceled and he drove 500 miles home to Philadelphia.
“At this point, I just made a bet on Pearson Airport. I just didn’t believe they were going to get me out of there,” Griffin said in an interview with Zoom.
“My experience at Pearson Airport was zero out of 10 stars. I don’t think it could be worse.”
He also took to social media, writing on Facebook: “Never fly to Toronto Pearson Airport this year.”
While travel has increased dramatically in recent times, it has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. According to Statistics Canadaforeign arrivals to Canada by air in June were down by about one-third from June 2019, given recent changes to air travel tracking.
The Travel Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) is reporting problems at Pearson as well as continued travel restrictions. e.g. ArriveCan login apphinder the return of travel.
“People decide, “You know what? Based on what we’re seeing, we’re just not going to travel to Canada, Ontario or Toronto because it seems too cumbersome,” said Jessica Ng. TIAO Director of Policy and Government Relations.
“It’s affecting how people think of Canada as a top travel destination, and it’s impacting the tourism industry as they emerge from two years of restrictions and uncertainty.”
- Pearson Airport is creating new infographics to help travelers navigate the system
The Toronto Chamber of Commerce said that if Pearson’s problems are not resolved soon, it could negatively impact business travel, which will pick up in the fall.
“In terms of reputation, we don’t want to get to this point and we need to get ahead of it,” said Jennifer van der Valk, spokeswoman for the trade council.
Something went wrong?
Pearson is the second busiest airport in North America in terms of international traffic, after John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to the GTAA.
In addition to addressing staffing shortages, GTAA’s Gass said Canada’s strict travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic all but brought the industry to a halt, making the build-up “much more drastic than elsewhere.”
Rotman’s Hijazi argues that the advance planning should have been better, and that Canada’s major airlines bit off more than they could chew.
“The airlines sold too many tickets, more tickets than the capacity of the airport could handle,” he said.
The two largest airlines in Canada, WestJet and Air Canada said they were actively cutting their flights this summer by 20 and 25 percent, respectively. Air Canada cut thousands more flights at the end of June, when tourism chaos spread around the world.
Meanwhile, both GTAA and federal government said they were working hard to increase staffing and speed up passenger traffic through the airport. Efforts to streamline the passenger process include moving the random arrival check off the airport and adding more self-service kiosks at customs.
“We are seeing improvements, but we still have work to do to make passenger travel easier,” Gass said.
- Want to avoid another flight cancellation or delay? Some Canadians ride buses or taxis.
- The ‘chaos’ at Toronto’s Pearson Airport could continue until the end of August, says a former Air Canada executive.
Transport Canada also noted the improvements, saying there were 58 aircraft on the runway at Pearson during the week of July 11-17, an 84% decrease from the peak period during the week of May 23-29.
“This decline is indicative of the significant progress made to date in optimizing passenger traffic at Canada’s largest airport,” Transport Canada spokeswoman Laurel Lennox said in an email.
However, for peace of mind, business traveler Griffin plans to travel to Toronto for his next business meeting in September.
“I can predict when I will get there and when I will return home,” he said.