Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Canada’s busiest, has a public relations problem, raising concerns that some people may avoid traveling to the city.
Disgruntled travelers passing through Pearson post their bad experiences on social media, complaining about long lines, flight disruptions and lost luggage.
“Toronto Pearson Airport is a special circle of hell. Worst airport experience,” a Florida traveler tweeted last week, along with a photo showing a departures board with more than two dozen delayed flights.
The airport’s problems have also been featured in major international publications this month, including The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journaland the BBC.
“This is a national embarrassment,” said Walid Hejazi, an associate professor of economic and policy analysis at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “In the short term, this will clearly have an impact on Canadian tourism.”
Due to a sudden increase in travel, airports around the world have been affected by congestion and flight interruptions.
But Pearson’s problems have drawn special attention, often because the airport has earned the top spot for the highest percentage of flight delays this summer: 57 percent of all Pearson departures between June 1 and June 24. July were delayed, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. That was the highest rate among the 100 busiest airports in the world.
“Toronto Airport Worst in the World for Delays,” announced a headline in the Wall Street Journal last week.
Montreal Trudeau International Airport took second place with almost 53 percent of flights delayed.
Toronto’s Pearson International has won top honors for its airport service for years, but now it finds itself at the epicenter of a global air travel collapse. https://t.co/ uDv3FlDlIl
As with many airports around the world, Pearson’s troubles began when demand surged in May and many previously laid-off workers, including federal government employees, did not return, leading to staffing shortages.
“Aviation roles are highly skilled, so it’s not as simple as hiring someone new and putting them on the terminal floor or at the airfield,” said Tori Gass, a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). ) in an email. The GTAA, a nonprofit corporation, operates Pearson.
But the explanation is no comfort to upset passengers.
Business traveler Eric Griffin of Philadelphia says he has given up Pearson for the time being, following his recent travel experience.
Griffin flew from Philadelphia to Toronto on June 27 for an important meeting with a potential client for his phone accessories company.
Things didn’t go as planned.
After Griffin’s Air Canada flight landed in Toronto, he said he stayed on the tarmac for at least two hours, then spent the next three hours dealing with his lost checked baggage. The bag, which contained important sales-related materials, did not appear until three days after their meeting.
Griffin’s return flight was then cancelled, so he drove the 500 miles back to Philadelphia.
“At this point, I was done betting on Pearson Airport. I just had no faith that they were going to get me out of there,” Griffin said in a Zoom interview.
“My experience at Pearson Airport was zero out of 10 stars. I don’t think it could have gotten any worse.”
He, too, took to social media, writing, “Never fly into Toronto Pearson Airport this year,” in a Facebook post.
The return of travel?
Although travel has increased recently, it has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. According to Statistics CanadaThe number of foreign arrivals to Canada by air in June was down by about a third compared to June 2019, when adjusted for recent changes in air travel tracking.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) says the problems at Pearson, along with remaining travel restrictions like ArriveCan ticket appare hindering the return of travel.
“People are deciding that, ‘You know what? Based on what we’re seeing, we’re just not going to travel to Canada, to Ontario, to Toronto, because it’s considered too cumbersome,'” said Jessica Ng, Director of Policy and Government Affairs of TIAO.
“It affects… what people think of Canada as a premier travel destination, and it impacts tourism businesses just as they are emerging from two years of restrictions and uncertainty.”
The Toronto Region Board of Trade said if Pearson’s problems aren’t resolved soon, it could negatively affect business travel, which surges in the fall.
“From a reputation perspective, we don’t want to get to that point and we have to get ahead of ourselves,” said Jennifer van der Valk, a spokeswoman for the board of trade.
What went wrong?
Pearson is the second-busiest airport in North America in terms of international traffic, after John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, according to the GTAA.
In addition to dealing with staffing shortages, GTAA’s Gass said Canada’s tight travel restrictions during the height of the pandemic brought the industry to a virtual standstill, making the increase “much steeper than in other countries.”
Rotman’s Hejazi argues that there should have been better pre-planning and that Canada’s major airlines bit off more than they could chew.
“The airlines sold too many tickets, more tickets than the capacity of the airport could handle,” he said.
Canada’s two largest airlines, WestJet and Air Canada, said they both proactively reduced their flights this summer by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively. air canada cut thousands more flights in late June, when travel chaos spread across the globe.
Meanwhile, both the GTAA and the federal government said they have been working hard to increase staffing and speed passenger movement through the airport. Efforts to streamline passenger processing include moving random arrival tests out of the airport and adding more self-service kiosks at customs.
“We’re seeing improvements, but we still have work to do to smooth the ride for passengers,” Gass said.
Transport Canada also noted improvements, stating that during the week of July 11-17, 58 aircraft remained on the runway at Pearson, a decrease of 84 per cent compared to the peak period during the week of May 23-29.
“This decrease shows the significant progress that has been made to date to optimize passenger flows at Canada’s largest airport,” Transport Canada spokeswoman Laurel Lennox said in an email.
Still, for his peace of mind, business traveler Griffin plans to drive to Toronto for his next business meeting in September.
“I can predict when I’ll get there and when I’ll get home,” he said.