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U.S.-bound travellers line up at Toronto's Pearson airport. (FRANK GUNN)
U.S.-bound travellers line up at Toronto's Pearson airport. (FRANK GUNN)

Toronto airport tops list of worst delays Add to ...

The travel delays hobbling United States-bound travellers at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport are among the worst in the world, according to airline industry analysts who have been monitoring the chaos.

The sheer volume of flights from Canada to the U.S. - Canada has more scheduled flights south of the border than any other country in the world - has caused unparalleled and persistent security-related clogs at the country's largest airport. This despite an influx of police officers mandated to help with the emergency-screening regulations implemented in the wake of a failed bombing on Christmas Day of a Northwest Airlines jetliner over Detroit.

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"Certainly the current situation is not sustainable," said Steve Lott, a Washington-based spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, an industry group representing more than 230 airlines. "It's really an unmanageable situation that is both frustrating and costly for everybody involved. We understand the need for emergency measures immediately following a threat, however … the current system really can't handle the volume of passengers with these temporary measures in place.

"The case in point is the Canadian airports," he said. "On a global basis, we've seen some of the worst delays in Canada."

In the past day or so, Toronto's Pearson airport has risen to the top of that list, said Ken Dunlap, director of security in North America for the IATA.

"There are some Canadian airports operating very well. Vancouver is doing well. Calgary seems to have turned around … most of the pressure right now is definitely focused on Toronto," he said, adding: "We're satisfied that every stone has been turned over to remedy the situation at Canadian airports."

Still, serious problems persist. The emergency screening procedures put in place over the weekend by the Transportation Security Administration, the federal U.S. air-transport authority, require secondary screening of all carry-on items and extra thorough pat-downs at security checks that are taking about five extra minutes a person. The personnel demands caused Tuesday by the extra checking requirements forced Canadian security officials to bar passengers from bringing any carry-on luggage aboard U.S.-bound flights with only a few exceptions.

Longer than usual lineups at Pearson airport remained, and passengers were being advised by Transport Canada to arrive for U.S.-bound flights up to three hours in advance of takeoff.

The TSA, the U.S. authority that set the terms of the ramped-up searching, originally set Dec. 30 as the expiration date for the elevated alert. But it remains unclear how long the extra security screening procedures will actually be in place.

"We have no indication at this point," said John McKenna, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association of Canada, which represents commercial airlines in Canada. "We have no reason to believe they could be permanent," he said, adding that Canadian authorities are at the mercy of U.S. authorities calling the shots.

"It is all American-dictated," he said. "Canada just follows through. If we want to fly there, we have no choice. This is imposing added costs on us and we're absorbing them for this period. But should they turn out to be long-term measures, the consumer is going to end up paying more."

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