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Travelers arriving in Toronto facing "extreme" wait times

May 07, 2022
7 min read
Toronto, Pearson International Airport, Bilingual Customs Signs
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You can add Canada’s busiest airport to the list of places where staffing shortages and COVID-19 protocols are leading to long lines. This week, it got so bad that airport officials in Toronto sounded the alarm, calling on the Canadian government to make immediate changes. So far, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen, though, and it could continue to mean long wait times for passengers after their plane touches down.

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On Wednesday, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) which manages Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ) – Canada’s busiest airport, including for international travel – released a statement regarding “extreme wait times” for passengers.

Airport officials said staffing shortages were leading to longer than usual backups for departing passengers at security checkpoints, and for U.S. citizens going through customs preclearance.

Those appear to be two pieces of the puzzle.

What appears to be an especially urgent situation, though, is what’s happening with international passengers after they arrive.

Toronto airport leaders said passengers arriving from international destinations are facing “bottlenecks and very lengthy delays” in border processing. The airport said this is a “direct result” of the Canadian government's health requirements that are still in place due to COVID-19.

In an effort to prevent what the airport said would otherwise be “severe passenger congestion,” airlines and the airport have been holding passengers on planes to avoid a crush of foot traffic into the customs area – a tactic officials admitted is “incredibly frustrating for passengers.”

The Air Canada check-in area at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (Photo by Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

All you have to do is check Pearson Airport’s Twitter feed to see the frustration of travelers.

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After the airport again warned Friday evening, “Arrivals processing this evening is expected to be longer than normal given high passenger volumes and (Canadian government) health checks,” the responses came pouring in.

“Been sitting in our plane for over an hour now to go inside,” one passenger, Paul, tweeted at the airport. “Can’t imagine how horrible it will be inside.”

Another passenger, Jake, tweeted just before midnight, “My flight landed at 10:10 and we are still not off the plane yet and no direction as of when it could even be.”

As part of its statement, airport officials put out an “urgent” call to the Canadian government to “streamline or eliminate” health requirements at the border to ease bottlenecks.

Some health measures are still in place

Interestingly, these “extreme” delays airport officials have spoken of in recent days come weeks after the Canadian government eased many (but not all) of its entry requirements for international travelers.

TPG reported earlier this spring, that the country removed its testing requirement for vaccinated travelers entering Canada.

There are a couple of caveats, though.

First of all, Canadian health officials are continuing to do random testing among arriving passengers – so even if you’re vaccinated, you could randomly get pulled aside and tested when you enter the country.

The other piece of this is that – like a lot of countries – Canada still has pandemic requirements in place for uploading health information. All incoming travelers have to upload their information, including either a vaccine card or proof of a negative test, to the ArriveCAN app.

Related: Vaccinated travelers can now enter Canada without a COVID-19 test

So, if you haven’t correctly or completely filled out the information on the app, presumably, your trip through customs is going to take longer than usual. The more people this happens to, the longer the wait for everyone.

On top of calling on the Canadian government to “streamline or eliminate” these health requirements, GTAA officials called on health leaders to stop random testing, and move to an option like community wastewater testing, which has been a tactic used in parts of the world to monitor COVID-19 trends.

(Photo by Yu Ruidong/China News Service via Getty Images)

Canadian officials respond (To TPG)

After Toronto airport officials sounded the alarm over these delays earlier in the week, I reached out to see if they’d received word of any possible solutions from the Canadian government.

“We have not yet received a response from the federal government regarding solutions to these issues,” a GTAA spokesperson told TPG Friday evening. “The challenging wait times experienced by passengers continue to persist.”

A spokesperson with the Public Health Agency of Canada responded to TPG regarding the issues, though, and told us, “There are various reasons for the current backlogs and bottlenecks” at Pearson Airport.

As part of the statement, Canadian officials said the government “has worked to build efficiencies and additional capacity at the border,” but warned, “travelers should still be prepared for potentially…longer wait times and delays.” The statement acknowledged those wait times may “differ” depending on the time of day when travelers arrive.

Health officials also acknowledged during “peak times, wait times for testing at the airport can be longer,” but gave no indication any of the requirements are set to change. They did, however, note that the government “continues to assess the increase in traveler volume” and is looking “to identify efficiencies,” including potentially exploring alternative locations for testing.

In the meantime, the government reiterated the importance of completing ArriveCAN information prior to travel in hopes of expediting entry into the country.

Related: My experience crossing the Canadian border

Toronto Pearson (YYZ) is Canada's largest airport. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Bottom line

Like many countries, Canada is grappling with the impact of staffing challenges and continued COVID-19 protocols as interest in travel surges again.

On top of raising concerns over the delays caused by health protocols, GTAA is calling on both the Canadian and U.S. government to take steps to hire more workers to staff security and customs centers at the airport. As we’ve seen here in the U.S., though, solving these staffing challenges is not an ‘overnight’ fix.

Bottom line, airport, airline and government officials are looking for solutions to reduce wait times. For the time being, though, it appears these delays are going to continue.

Featured image by UIG via Getty Images
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