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A plane passes over an Air Canada hangar during its landng approach at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)
A plane passes over an Air Canada hangar during its landng approach at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Congestion easing at Pearson airport in Toronto after work-to-rule Add to ...

Most travellers encountered flight delays of less than 40 minutes Saturday at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport as congestion eased, one day after a work-to-rule protest by security screeners disrupted travel schedules by hours.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which oversees passenger security checks, placed the responsibility on staff at Garda World Security Corp. for Friday’s chaos at the country’s largest airport.

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Flights at Pearson are gradually returning to normal Saturday, say aviation officials, who caution that cancellations from Friday will have a lingering effect through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Hundreds of bags still have to be reunited with travellers who departed belatedly Friday, which marked the third consecutive day of an escalating work-to-rule campaign by 1,500 members of the Canadian Airport Workers Union.

CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque said the lineups to go through security have eased, compared with the three previous days, but the federal agency is “closely monitoring the operation.”

Workers are upset about Garda’s plans to implement a new bidding process for work shifts, he said. Union officials did not return calls for comment.

Scott Armstrong, a spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, added that Pearson has deployed extra staff to lend a hand, though the security screening functions must be handled by Garda employees. On Saturday, many planes took off 20 to 40 minutes late while some even departed on schedule, though there were several flights delayed by roughly 90 minutes.

Angry travellers reported lineups on Friday from 60 minutes to four hours. Unionized workers at Garda, which has the contract to do screening for CATSA, stared intently at X-ray monitors to bring luggage conveyor belts to a crawl on Friday and, at most checkpoints, they stalled further by using metal-detector wands on every passenger and manually inspecting each carry-on bag.

“Air Canada will do everything possible to minimize inconvenience to our customers,” Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee said Saturday. He warned that the Montreal-based carrier will be seeking redress from CATSA and requesting changes from Ottawa over the way the agency operates.

“Canadian air travellers should never again be held hostage for three full days by illegal actions, most especially during important holiday travel periods,” Mr. Dee said.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board had ordered the Canadian Airport Union Workers to halt their job action on Thursday, but employees ignored the cease-and-desist edict. The CIRB issued a second order on Friday.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said late Friday that she has appointed a mediator to help resolve the impasse, while Garda said its managers are trying to pitch in where possible.

Ms. Raitt urged union leaders and employees to “cease and desist from participating in any further unlawful strike activities, and to resume service levels at Pearson International Airport.”

The failure to resolve the labour dispute at Pearson sent ripples across Canada’s airport system, resulting in widespread flight delays and numerous cancellations just as the busy Thanksgiving weekend flying schedule kicked off.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. and other carriers at Pearson watched passengers endure lengthy security lineups, especially for flights to the United States.

Follow on Twitter: @brentcjang

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