With strong travel demand, Canada’s airports and airlines promise this summer won’t be so bad

Do you remember travel pictures from last summer and more recent winter vacations? Lost bags, long waits on the tarmacs and piles of luggage on arrival? Some airports across Canada are promising travelers that these scenes won’t be the norm this summer.

“We heard from our customers,” Greater Toronto Airports Authority President and CEO Deborah Flint told Pearson International on Monday. “The anxiety, uncertainty, frustration and lack of control felt by passengers last year is one we will never forget.”

With nearly all COVID-19 travel restrictions lifted, the pent-up desire to get away from it all is expected to result in even more Canadians traveling by air in the coming months.

“The demand is really, really strong,” said travel agent Ken Stewart, owner of Crowfoot Travel Solutions in Calgary. “Everyone started traveling again last year. And those who didn’t go last year are adding to the number of those going this year.”

Stewart says demand is seen across the board as summer approaches – with people wanting to fly domestically, to the US, to Europe and even still to sun destinations.

Hundreds of passengers lined up, sometimes for hours, for security checks at Toronto’s Pearson airport last summer. The CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority says that won’t happen this year. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

What’s New at YYZ (Toronto)

Pearson, Canada’s largest airport, saw overcrowded baggage halls, stranded passengers, flight delays and cancellations last summer. But Flint says things will be different this year.

Last summer, punctuality was only 35%, she said. “Currently, our airlines start with 70% on-time statistics,” she said.

Over the past year, Pearson has hired 10,000 new employees, an increase of nearly 22%, for a total of 50,000 workers, roughly in line with 2019 levels. This includes 130 new employees announced last year. last week to help with critical areas at Pearson such as buses, baggage handling and terminal operations.

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The airport expects about 80% of the summer traffic it saw before the pandemic, an increase of about 10% from last year. And Flint says employees are now more experienced too.

“Last year we saw an environment where there was rapid hiring,” she said, referring to the period just after many travel restrictions were lifted and a huge increase in air travel . She attributed some of the slowdowns in certain airport processing areas to inexperience.

“It’s a very complicated business for an entry-level employee,” Flint said. “It’s very regulatory and complex, so learning this environment on the first day, second day or second week of work is very difficult.”

Key systems have also been upgraded. The airport has simplified its contactless check-in and boarding processes through a new partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency to deploy biometric electronic gates and expedite traveler clearance.

The airport is also using artificial intelligence to better manage passengers’ checked baggage.

Day 65:50Air Canada said her luggage was lost. Their air beacons said otherwise

What’s new at YUL (Montreal)

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport says it has also been working to increase its workforce and will complete upgrades to its baggage handling systems and connecting facilities for passengers in June. He expects summer passenger traffic to return to 2019 levels, when the airport handled six million travelers from June to August.

“Obviously, given the high number of passengers expected this summer, it is possible that there will be a little more waiting than usual at peak times, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. midday and evening,” said Eric Forest, communications advisor for Aéroports de Montréal. in an email to CBC News.

The airport encourages passengers to use all the technology at their disposal to make the process smoother. Including YUL-expresswhich allows travelers to pre-book passage through security checkpoints, and Mobile Passport Controlan application that allows users to submit passport information and customs declaration prior to departure from the United States.

People are seen from behind with luggage carts, queuing at the airport
Long waits were also the norm at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport last summer. The airport is encouraging travelers to use technology to make the process smoother, such as submitting passport information in advance. (CBC/Radio Canada)

What’s New at YVR (Vancouver)

Vancouver’s YVR says it expects August to be its busiest summer month, but expects an average of 81,000 passengers to pass through its doors each summer day – roughly on par with pre-COVID numbers.

“In preparation, we have been working with airlines as they develop their summer schedules to ensure we are ready to get passengers where they want to go safely and efficiently,” a spokesperson said. of YVR in a statement emailed to CBC News.

The airport says it is reviewing every area of ​​its operations and services to meet summer demand, a move that followed last winter’s service disruptions.

What’s New at YYC (Calgary)

Although Calgary Airport did not experience the types of delays that other hubs experienced last year, President and CEO Bob Sartor said with strong demand across the country, there is always potential for ripple effects.

“I think there’s going to be some hiccups here and there. There’s only a limited number of agency workers available from the federal government,” he said in Calgary last week.

“It’s going to be a matter of managing the flow of flights. You know, airlines like to operate during peaks…and we have to make sure those peaks aren’t so high that they can’t be properly serviced.”

Legs and feet are seen walking in front of a YYC sign
Calgary’s YYC is Alberta’s busiest airport, but didn’t experience the kind of delays and long lines last year as major hubs across the country. Even so, the airport is prepared for any mishaps that may arise. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

What the airlines expect

Air Canada says it is taking “a cautious approach” to planning this summer, planning to operate 90% of its pre-pandemic 2019 summer schedule. “Despite fewer flights, we actually have more staff than in the summer of 2019 and this should still contribute to resilience,” an airline spokesperson said in an email.

“We have added resources and taken other measures as well, such as adjusting our schedule to create more online time for customers and to flatten peak flight times during the day for better customer flow. .”

A looming concern for some travelers is the potential labor dispute at Canada’s other major airline, WestJet.

About 1,850 WestJet pilots from the Air Line Pilots Association are set to strike starting May 16, which could lead to anything from refusing to work overtime to a full-scale strike.

A line of six men holding signs with messages related to WestJet and an impending strike
WestJet Airlines pilots stand on an information picket line Monday at Toronto’s Pearson airport. The pilots could go on strike as early as May 16. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

It’s unclear what this might mean for people who have already booked travel with WestJet, but Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer at Option Consommateurs, a nonprofit that advocates for consumer rights, told CBC News last week that she believes refunds should be offered.

How Travelers and Travel Agents Strategize

Sarah Pew, an avid traveler, explains that after a frustratingly long wait of several hours on the tarmac of an Air Canada flight in January, and without compensation, she and her husband decided to go with the discount subsidiary. from WestJet, Swoop, for a June trip to the Dominican Republic.

She’s a little worried about it, but with inflation driving up the cost of plane tickets, it was all about the bottom line.

“We were like, let’s just try,” she said. “Worst-case scenario we’re still four hours late, or a day late, but at least that’s half the price.”

A smiling couple standing on a beach on an overcast day.
Sarah Pew and her husband, Craig, on their last pre-pandemic vacation in the Bahamas in January 2020. The couple plan to fly to the Dominican Republic in June. (Submitted by Sarah Pew)

Stewart, the Calgary travel agent, agrees prices are much higher than people might be used to due to inflation, higher jet fuel costs and sheer demand – but says in his experience , the actual airport experience, in terms of wait times and delays, has improved in recent months.

He suggests booking early for the best prices and always buying travel insurance.

Pew says she and her husband simply took a fatalistic approach to travel – expecting something to go wrong every day of travel.

“Whether we get pushed out of our seats or our flight gets delayed or we get pulled into a secondary search, expect something to go wrong so we won’t be so frustrated and upset when it happens. .”

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