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opinion

Travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 1 on May 25.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

If only passport backlogs were the sole problem facing Canada’s beleaguered travel industry.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of flying to or from Toronto Pearson International Airport in recent months knows that securing a passport is merely the prelude to travel torture.

There are long queues at check-in, security and customs. But there are other hassles, too, such as lost baggage and that clunky ArriveCan app. The cumulative effect of those problems is wreaking havoc on our travel and tourism industry despite the reopening of the economy.

That the chaos has lasted this long is inexcusable and risks besmirching Toronto’s image as a financial centre and a tourist destination just as businesses of all kinds are trying to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Think about it. People have been cooped up at home for more than two years. They’re aching for a break or at least a change of scenery.

So, if this is how Canada rolls out the welcome mat for the world’s tourists and business travellers, why would anyone ever want to come back?

Just look at what happened at this week’s Collision technology conference in Toronto. A number of foreign delegates missed the event because of lengthy delays in obtaining entry visas, Postmedia reported this week.

One can only wonder how much business was lost – not only for tech entrepreneurs but also for other companies operating in and around Toronto.

“I’ll focus on business expansion in Europe, instead of Canada,” one affected business owner told Postmedia in an interview.

Ouch.

The Globe and Mail has also heard about other grievances.

“Is Toronto always like this?” two British tourists asked me after they braved interminable lineups for customs and taxis at Pearson airport.

They don’t know the half of it.

Earlier this month, as I was travelling to Paris for The Globe, I saw an elderly woman faint after she was forced to wait an hour to check in her luggage. Apparently, the baggage hall at Terminal 3 was so full that afternoon, they could no longer accept new suitcases.

We were eventually told just to leave our suitcases in a pile on the floor. So much for the prevailing wisdom about the dangers of leaving one’s luggage unattended.

What could possible go wrong?

Federal officials have taken great pains to point out that these travel snafus are a global phenomenon, but many of us know first hand that the situation isn’t nearly as dire at other airports.

My colleague Eric Atkins, for instance, interviewed Air Canada passenger Victoria Pullen, who endured long delays disembarking her plane and clearing customs in Toronto after flying in from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Her experiences at the two airports is a tale of contrasts.

“That whole experience at LaGuardia was really efficient,” Ms. Pullen said. “Didn’t have to wait for anything. But in Toronto it was just, ‘What is wrong with this airport? Where are the employees? Why can’t we get them?’ I don’t get it.”

No one does. That’s why it is high time for the federal government to use common sense to solve these problems.

For starters, the ArriveCan app, which passengers must use to input their vaccination status and travel details, needs to go. Border city mayors and the International Air Transport Association are among those calling for its demise.

“The ArriveCan app and other restrictions continue to be a barrier to the free flow of people across the northern border,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins in a statement.

“My office regularly receives calls from Western New Yorkers frustrated and confused by the technology and frequently changing, disjointed requirements for crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Consequently, to bypass the uncertainty and hassle it creates, many are avoiding making the trip across the border entirely.”

The app isn’t user friendly. In addition to the confusion it causes foreigners, it creates anxiety for older travellers.

Most importantly, it does nothing to stop the spread of infection, especially when other countries have dropped vaccine mandates and lifted masking requirements for air travel.

It’s time to face facts: COVID zero is no longer an attainable goal. That’s why Canada needs to align its travel rules with those of other countries, especially the United States.

Ottawa must also stop offering Canadians contradictory advice about how to apply for passports.

Telling people that passport applications should be submitted well in advance of making travel plans is not helpful, especially if proof of travel is required for urgent pickup service.

“We continue to thank Canadians for their patience, and encourage individuals to plan ahead to ensure they have a passport before making travel commitments,” Karina Gould, Minister of Children, Families and Social Development, said in a statement this month.

I bet those comments are going over like a lead balloon with Canadians who applied for their passports back in March and still haven’t received them.

Clearly, it’s our government officials – not ordinary people – who struggle with planning ahead.

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