Toronto’s Pearson International Airport – the busiest in Canada – has a public relations problem, raising concerns that some people are avoiding flying into town.
Disgruntled travelers passing through Pearson are posting their bad experiences on social media, complaining about long lines, flight disruptions and missing luggage.
“Toronto Pearson Airport is a special hellish circle. Worst airport experience ever,” a traveler from Florida tweeted last week, along with a photo showing a departures board with more than two dozen delayed flights.
The airport’s problems were also featured in major international publications this month, including The New York TimesThe the wall street journaland the BBC.
“It’s a national embarrassment,” said Walid Hejazi, associate professor of economic analysis and policy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “In the short term, this will clearly have an impact on Canadian tourism.”
Due to a sudden surge in travel, airports around the world have been plagued by traffic jams and flight disruptions.
But Pearson’s problems have drawn particular attention, often because the airport snagged the top spot for the highest percentage of flight delays this summer: 57% of all Pearson departures between June 1 and June 24. July were delayed, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. It was the highest rate among the world’s 100 busiest airports.
“Toronto airport worst in world for delays,” a headline in The Wall Street Journal ran last week.
Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport took second place with nearly 53% of flights delayed.
Toronto’s Pearson International has won top honors for airport service for years, but is now at the epicenter of a global air travel meltdown https://t.co/uDv3FlDlIl
As with many airports around the world, Pearson’s problems began when demand spiked in May and many previously laid off workers, including federal government employees, failed to return, leading to shortages. of staff.
“Roles in aviation are highly skilled, so it’s not as simple as hiring someone new and bringing them to the terminal floor or the airfield,” said Tori Gass, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) in an email. The GTAA, a not-for-profit corporation, operates Pearson.
But the explanation is no consolation for the inconvenienced passengers.
Philadelphia business traveler Eric Griffin says he’s sworn off Pearson for now, based on his recent travel experience.
Griffin flew from Philadelphia to Toronto on June 27 for an important meeting with a potential customer from his phone accessories business.
Things didn’t go as planned.
After Griffin’s Air Canada flight landed in Toronto, he said he was on the tarmac for at least two hours and then spent the next three hours dealing with his missing checked baggage. The bag, which contained important sales-related documents, did not appear until three days after he met.
Then Griffin’s return flight was canceled, so he flew the 800 miles to Philadelphia.
“At this point, I had just finished betting on Pearson Airport. I just had no faith that they were going to get me out of there,” Griffin said in a Zoom interview.
“My experience at Pearson Airport was zero out of 10 stars. I don’t think it could have gotten any worse.”
He, too, took to social media, writing, “Never fly to Toronto Pearson Airport this year,” in a Facebook post.
Returning from the trip?
Although travel has increased recently, it has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. According to Statistics Canadathe number of foreign arrivals to Canada by air in June was down about a third from June 2019, when adjusted for recent changes in air travel tracking.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) says the problems at Pearson, along with remaining travel restrictions like the ArriveCan entry apphinder the return trip.
“People decide that, ‘You know what? From what we see, we’re just not going to travel to Canada, Ontario, Toronto, because it’s considered too heavy,’” said Jessica Ng, director of policy and government affairs. from TIAO.
“It’s impacting…what people think of Canada as a top travel destination, and it’s impacting tourism businesses just as they emerge from two years of restrictions and uncertainty. »
The Toronto Region Chamber of Commerce said if Pearson’s issues aren’t resolved soon, it could negatively impact business travel, which resumes in the fall.
“From a reputational perspective, we don’t want to come to this and we have to get on with it,” said Jennifer van der Valk, spokeswoman for the commerce council.
What went wrong?
Pearson is the second-busiest airport in North America by international traffic, after New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to the GTAA.
In addition to dealing with staffing shortages, GTAA’s Gass said strict travel restrictions imposed by Canada at the height of the pandemic have all but paralyzed the industry, making the ramp-up “much more abrupt than in other countries”.
Rotman’s Hejazi argues there should have been better pre-planning and that Canada’s major airlines did more than they could chew.
“The airlines sold far too many tickets, more tickets than the airport’s capacity could handle,” he said.
Canada’s two largest airlines, WestJet and Air Canada, said they had both proactively reduced their flights this summer by 20 and 25 percent respectively. Air Canada cut thousands of extra flights late June as travel chaos spread across the globe.
Meanwhile, the GTAA and the federal government said they are working hard to increase staff and speed passenger movement through the airport. Efforts to streamline the passenger process include moving random arrival testing outside the airport and adding self-service kiosks at customs.
“We are seeing improvements, but we still have work to do to make it easier for passengers to travel,” Gass said.
Transport Canada also noted improvements, indicating that for the week of July 11-17, 58 planes were held on the tarmac at Pearson, an 84% drop from the peak period of the week of May 23-29. .
“This decrease demonstrates the significant progress that has been made to date to streamline passenger flows at Canada’s largest airport,” Transport Canada spokeswoman Laurel Lennox said in an email.
Still, for peace of mind, business traveler Griffin plans to head to Toronto for his next business meeting in September.
“I can predict when I’ll get there and when I’ll get home,” he said.