Canadian travel delays ramp up as long weekend comes to a close

High demand and logistical snags have made air travel tricky over the past few weeks. Air Canada says they're moving half a million passengers this weekend alone. City's David Zura speaks with a PEI woman trapped in Toronto.

Airports and airlines across Canada are reporting massive delays, as travel ramps up amid easing pandemic restrictions and flight cancellations.

The country’s busiest airport is seeing the worst of it, with travellers at Toronto Pearson continuing to be hit by delayed or scrapped flights and baggage challenges.

In a written statement to CityNews, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority says it’s asking domestic passengers to arrive for their flights at least two hours ahead of time. For departing international travellers, the recommendation is to arrive at least three hours early.

Travel delays at airports have been an ongoing issue over the past several weeks. Amid increased demand for travel, airports have struggled to deal with droves of passengers, with staffing shortages only making the situation worse.

Meanwhile, changes made by Air Canada and WestJet have only added to frustrations. Both airlines have announced in recent days they’re cutting back on flights this summer.

Eleanor Mohammed is among the many travellers who have been caught up in the chaos. Mohammed is an urban planner from Prince Edward Island who was returning to Canada from Rwanda and Poland on business.

However, after arriving in Toronto, she found herself stuck.

“On the way home, I was prepared for the worst — like three-hour waits to get through customs. But, surprisingly enough, entering Pearson was no problem. Going through customs was less than an hour. What was very interesting was the baggage area — I’ve never seen the baggage area with so many bags just sitting around at the airport before,” she told CityNews.

But it wasn’t the baggage situation that caused trouble for Mohammed. Before even returning to Canada, Air Canada informed her that her connecting flight from Toronto to P.E.I. was cancelled, like many others.

She was put on another flight Saturday, but when she woke up that morning, she found out that new flight was delayed.

“I actually won’t believe I’m on a flight home to Charlottetown until I’m actually on the flight home to Charlottetown,” she added.

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When it comes to dealing with the airline, Mohammed says it’s been a little bit of hit and miss.

“You can’t get them very easily on the phone right now unless you’re invested in putting in hours upon hours, and I know many of us don’t have that. What I can say is that Air Canada has been very good in communicating through email,” she said, adding this situation isn’t comparable to any other time she’s travelled.

Travellers have also taken to social media to share their frustrations in recent weeks.

“Waited almost 2 hours for luggage at Toronto Pearson!! But at least nothing got lost,” one person tweeted.

“If you can avoid Pearson airport on your travels — DO IT,” another post reads.

Some shared photos of flight delays and cancellations, with one tweet showing a number of departures either pushed hours or scrapped all together.

On Saturday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra stressed the federal government was doing what it could to help reduce airport delays. The hiring of more than 1,000 Canadian Air Transport Security Authority screening officers, the suspension of mandatory random COVID-19 testing in airports, and maximizing officer availability were among the measures he listed that have been taken since the start of May.

A statement from June 30 also notes Alghabra recently met with the CEOs of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and WestJet to discuss actions to help bring more employees in and to ameliorate operations. The statement said he had plans to meet with Air Canada officials the following week.

“We are making progress, but challenges remain, particularly for travellers facing flight cancellations and issues with baggage services. We continue to take action with air industry partners to reduce the delays in the travel system and update Canadians on our progress,” the statement from Transport Canada dated June 30 concludes.

Travellers in and out of Montreal’s major airport have also experienced delays and baggage issues in recent weeks.

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport has been urging passengers for weeks to arrive early for departing flights.

In Vancouver, YVR is expecting a peak travel day Sunday, saying the airport is on track to see an average of over 70,000 passengers a day.

Again, that airport is urging travellers to arrive early in anticipation of delays.

Air passenger rights

As many people face cancelled flights or extended delays, passengers are being reminded to know what their rights are.

Gábor Lukács, president of Air Passenger Rights, is urging travellers to be ready to document what they can, in the event you will need to launch any sort of legal action.

“Canadian airlines have been acting incredibly irresponsibly,” he told CityNews, noting many airlines have “sold way more tickets to way more passengers than they are reasonably capable of handling.”

“Those cancellations, those delays that are happening now, they are well within the airlines’ control, and therefore airlines would have to pay passengers, not only for their meals and hotels if the passenger is delayed, but also some compensation under the Air Passenger Protection regulations. I encourage passengers to not let airlines get away with it. There have to be some consequences for such shabby corporate conduct,” Lukács added.

Read more: Air Canada cancellations: What are your passenger rights?

In June, amid the extreme delays passengers are still facing, Canada’s transport regulator unveiled more stringent rules around reimbursement by airlines as it beefed up its passengers rights charger.

However, the new regulations aren’t in effect until Sept. 8. After that time, carriers will be required to either refund passengers or rebook them — at the travellers choice — if a flight is cancelled or significantly delayed.

The new regulations will also require that airlines offer a rebooking or refund within 30 days if they can’t provide a new reservation within 48 hours of a flight that’s been cancelled or delayed at length.

Current rules only require airlines provide refunds for flight disruptions that are within the company’s control, excluding situations like storms or unexpected mechanical issues.

-With files from Michelle Morton, Michael Williams, and The Canadian Press

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