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The calm before the flights: How the staff at Toronto Pearson Airport prepare for the day ahead

While much of the city sleeps, the staff at Toronto Pearson International Airport are preparing for the 129,000 people who pass through the airport each day. The time between the last rush of incoming flights of the night and the first rush of outgoing flights in the morning is essential to keeping the airport running. In the absence of crowds, cleaning staff wax floors, security staff perform routine tests on equipment, and restaurant staff prepare for their early-morning patrons as the odd passenger catches some sleep at the gates after missing a connecting flight. These quiet hours allow for the vital maintenance of Pearson, a thoroughfare that never closes.

1:20am: The airport’s main Operations Centre runs day and night. Its function is to feed information to all managers of operations throughout the airport, such as the Airport Duty Manager, Airport Operations Control, Security Operations Control and Resource Management Unit. The bottom half of the Operations Centre screen monitors activity relating to security; the top half monitors activity relating to aircraft movement.

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1:54am: A passenger waits for the gates to open while her friend sleeps, covered in blankets.

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2:23am: Within a small window of time each night, the security machines at Pearson’s security checkpoints must be tested to ensure that they meet Transport Canada standards. The airport has four passenger checkpoints at Terminal 1 and three passenger checkpoints at Terminal 3. Depending on flight schedules, some checkpoints have as little as 90 minutes to prepare for the following day.

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2:54am: The wee hours are the most important time for the Toronto Pearson International Airport cleaning staff to work. Nearly 130,000 passengers go through the airport each day, and the airport never closes, so the time between the last incoming and first outgoing flights is when vacuuming construction, and other maintenance-related jobs must be done.

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3:10am: The wee hours are the most important time for the Toronto Pearson International Airport cleaning staff to work. Nearly 130,000 passengers go through the airport each day, and the airport never closes, so the time between the last incoming and first outgoing flights is when floor waxing, construction, and other maintenance-related jobs must be done.

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3:16am: Rachel Zhang awaits her connecting flight to Ottawa. After delays on both her flight from Beijing to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Toronto, she missed her 11:00pm flight and must wait for the next flight to Ottawa at 7:00am.

Chloë Ellingson/The Globe and Mail.

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4:20am: Toronto Pearson International Airport employs roughly 49,000 people from 400 companies, including retail and security companies, airlines, government agencies, and restaurants. There are roughly 100 restaurants between the two terminals with various opening and closing hours. At Twist, a 5:00am opening means early starts for its staff.

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5:45am: A WestJet pilot inspects his aircraft in advance of a flight from Toronto to Montreal. After Air Canada, WestJet is the largest carrier at Pearson.

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6:01am: A WestJet flight welcomes the first passenger on a flight from Toronto to Montreal. After Air Canada, WestJet is the largest carrier at Pearson.

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6:20am: At one time Toronto Pearson International Airport had three terminals but now, upon arriving at the airport, passengers will only see signs for Terminals 1 and 3. The current Terminal 1 was built to handle more capacity than the former Terminals 1 and 2 combined, and the old buildings were removed in the 2000s as the new terminal came online. While the airport considered renaming Terminal 3, much of the infrastructure’s signage would have had to be replaced, and the confusion to employees and passengers and high cost were seen as prohibitive.

Chloë Ellingson/The Globe and Mail.

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