Toronto Mayor John Tory is speaking out about the situation at Toronto Pearson after former NHL player Ryan Whitney slammed the airport for his chaotic night of delays.
“The situation at the airport is not acceptable at it presently it. It’s just not acceptable,” Tory said at a press conference on Tuesday morning. “This is not just a Toronto problem. (Pearson) is the gateway to all of Canada.”
Whitney’s video, in which he calls Pearson the “worst place on earth,” has racked up nearly two million views on Twitter.
In it, he recapped a frustrating experience trying to catch a connecting flight to Boston and spending “six hours” in a line waiting for assistance after his initial flight was cancelled. He said that he was eventually rebooked on another flight the next morning, only to be rebooked once again on an earlier flight without being notified of the time change.
There have been a series of delays reported at Pearson in recent weeks, with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) suggesting that some of the blame has to do with staffing shortages in various functions, including customs.
Tory said he’s spoken to GTAA CEO Deborah Flint as well as Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra and Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendocino about the need to address all of the issues plaguing the airport at once.
Alghabra told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that the federal government wants to remedy this situation as soon as possible, noting that it has the “greatest sense of urgency.”
He said airport staff are working “tirelessly” to get people moving and that the federal government is doing what it can to help.
“I know it’s frustrating. We’re going to do everything we can to provide the resources they need, to help logistically, to provide the support they need,” he said.
Last week, Mississauga officials and the GTAA called on the federal government to remove on-arrival random COVID-19 testing and duplicate health checks at Pearson airport. At this time, the federal government has not agreed ease those requirements. The only change is the removal of mandatory random testing for international to domestic connections.
Today, the GTAA, which operates Pearson, said it remains “committed to collaborating with the federal government and other aviation stakeholders on all concrete solutions.”
The agency also thanked the federal government for increasing agency staffing on the ground at Pearson, but said more must be done to reduce passenger wait times ahead of this summer’s travel season.
They reiterated their call for the elimination of time-consuming COVID-19 “duplicative public health questions and processes” at airports, especially at peak times.
“We continue to call on the federal government to urgently streamline or eliminate inbound legacy public health requirements at Canada’s airports, and in doing so, help to alleviate bottlenecks for international arriving passengers,” the GTAA said in a statement provided to CP24.
“We are also asking the federal government to move random testing upon arrival off-site from Canada’s airports quickly, or explore other effective and proven options, such as community wastewater testing.”
The interim president of the Canadian Airport Council said airports, which she called “complex eco-systems,” are facing a lot of challenges these days, and just when it seems like a bit of progress is being made in one area, challenges arise in another.
Speaking to CP24, Monette Pasher also said “a lot of work” remains to be done to get a handle on the delays and long wait times happening at Canada’s airports.
Like the GTAA, Pasher said her organization has also been advocating for the removal of removing random COVID-19 testing, especially at international border points. She also said another way to address backlogs is by no longer requiring vaccine mandates for both travellers and airport workers.
At a media availability on Tuesday, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the delays and backlogs at airports across Canada, including Pearson, are “no surprise” as people are travelling more due to COVID-19 mandates being lifted.
“It was something we could have predicted and the federal government should have moved earlier to make sure we had sufficient staffing levels at airports, sufficient staffing levels at passport offices to make sure we met the demand we knew was going to come,” he said. He added that the NDP would have made sure they had “adequate staffing levels (in place) to respond to people’s needs.”
“It is the government’s responsibility to see what is going to happen next, to plan for it and as soon as those mandates were lifted more staff should have been hired,” Singh said.