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Travellers wait for their luggage next to rows of unclaimed baggage at Toronto Pearson International Airport on July 2.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra called the delays passengers face at airports “frustratingly unacceptable” but said the bottlenecks are improving.

Mr. Alghabra said Monday at a news conference that hiring and co-ordination among the airlines, government agencies and other parties that operate at the country’s airports have helped reduce the number of planes held on the tarmac, lost luggage and cancelled flights.

But he said airlines must follow the rules and provide refunds and compensation for eligible passengers if the flights are delayed or cancelled, a service problem highlighted by passengers forced to spend the night sleeping on the floor of a terminal after a delay.

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Toronto Pearson International Airport and others have been plagued by line-ups and cancelled flights this summer, as air travel surged while staffing levels lagged. Additionally, COVID-19-related checks and procedures have slowed the processing of passengers. The bottlenecks are blamed on worker shortages at the airport, including the government agencies and their contractors that screen passengers and control plane traffic, airline employees who handle luggage and catering companies.

The problems have been most pronounced at Toronto Pearson, through which half of Canada’s international travellers pass.

Mr. Alghabra said 85 per cent of passengers are able to pass through security screening in 15 minutes, and the share of passengers forced to wait on a plane on the tarmac at Toronto Pearson is down to 2 per cent, compared with 18 per cent in July. Contractors employed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority have hired 1,800 new employees and the government has sped up worker security clearances and permitted trainees to perform regular duties to alleviate the shortage, Mr. Alghabra said.

Most Canadian airlines are flying about 80 per cent of their prepandemic schedules, which has driven up passenger volumes by more than 250 per cent since January. “These numbers have climbed while the aviation industry around the world continues to struggle with staffing up in a challenging labour market,” Mr. Alghabra said.

At Toronto Pearson in the seven days ending on Aug. 21, 45 per cent of flights arrived or departed within 15 minutes of the scheduled time, compared with the four-week average of 43 per cent, according to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). Four per cent of flights were cancelled, a two-percentage-point improvement from the average. The number of flights that waited before passengers were allowed to disembark in small groups or at once rose to 467 from the average 375, affecting more than 111,000 of 266,000 arriving international passengers, the GTAA said.

The majority of Air Canada’s flights are at Pearson. WestJet, which is centred in Calgary, said 65 per cent of its flights arrived on time between Aug. 15 and 22, and it completed 99 per cent of its schedule.

Melissa Lantsman, the Conservative transportation critic, said she is “pleased to see the government finally take responsibility for the chaos at our airports” but the number of flights delayed or cancelled remains high as the peak travel season ends. “Too many Canadians are waiting for a recovery plan still hampered by the government’s ArriveCan app,” Ms. Lantsman said.

The aviation industry is also beset by the lowest national unemployment rate in decades. Much of the aviation industry was idled in the pandemic that halted most air travel, and many employees found jobs in more stable industries. The service backlogs have been felt everywhere from short-staffed hospitals to immigration and passport-issuing offices.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who is co-chair of the task force on restoring government services, said there is more to be done to solve the delays experienced by Canadians as they resume normal life.

“There’s a lot of work to do and in some cases, we aren’t up to the prepandemic service level that Canadians expect and deserve,” Mr. Miller said.

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