A group representing most of the world’s airlines is calling on the Canadian government to drop the remaining travel rules related to COVID-19 in a bid to reduce the delays people face at some airports.
The International Air Transport Association said Canada should ensure there are enough staff at security and customs checkpoints, and that the pandemic-related restrictions be dropped. These include the vaccine requirement, submission of health and travel information on the ArriveCan app, and random COVID-19 testing. IATA also wants dedicated immigration lanes in airports for international arrivals who did not provide health information in advance, to allow others to move through customs check-ins more quickly.
“It is clear that people want to travel. We can therefore ill afford to have passengers subjected to unacceptable wait times both on arrival in the country or on departure,” said Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice-president for the Americas. “The relevant authorities must urgently consider removing the last remaining travel-related COVID-19 restrictions and work with the industry on policies and processes which will allow passengers to pass through airports with no undue delay.”
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The resurgence in demand for air travel has run into a shortage of the people who work at Canada’s busiest airports. Most were laid off in the pandemic, and are slow to be replaced in a hot job market. This has left passengers fuming as they are held on parked aircraft, lined up at security and customs checkpoints, or waiting for their baggage.
Markus Ruediger, a spokesman for IATA, said the lineups and delays are the worst in Toronto and Vancouver, but also present in Montreal. Canada stands out as among the countries with the most acute staff shortages and airport congestion problems, Mr. Ruediger said from Montreal.
The “untenable” delays cascade to airports in other countries and parts of Canada, he said, causing crew shortages and air-traffic snarls.
“It’s pretty dire,” he said. “It’s delays, delays, delays.”
Garda World, which operates the security screening for the government at airports in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northwest Territories, is trying to hire “hundreds” of preflight security staff, said spokesman Louis-Antoine Paquin.
But he said the process is slowed by a shortage of available recruits, lengthy security checks before hiring, and weeks-long training. And employees laid off in the pandemic had little trouble finding new work, given they retain their security accreditations, and are less likely to return.
“People are not staying home waiting for us to call them back for a shift,” Mr. Paquin said by phone.
To meet demand for airport staff, Garda has boosted the size of its training staff, held recruitment drives, and advertised for the roles, which pay in a range of $21.80 in Toronto to almost $26 in Edmonton.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has met with the head of the government agency responsible for security screening and the contractors hired to conduct it, including Garda, in a bid to resolve the problems before the busy summer travel season. He recently told reporters the staff shortage is compounded by variable flight schedules and travellers unaccustomed to check-in procedures.
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