‘Absolute disaster’: Hundreds of passengers wait hours for luggage at Toronto Pearson

The busy winter travel season has yet to begin, but already some passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport are flagging delays and congestion. As Tina Yazdani reports, some airlines are still hiring to bring staff to pre-pandemic levels.

By Tina Yazdani and Lucas Casaletto

The busy winter travel season has yet to begin, but already some passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport are flagging delays after some reported a two-hour wait to collect their luggage.

One passenger told CityNews that she arrived at Toronto Pearson last week, saying hundreds waited without an explanation from the airline. Photos from the airport show large crowds congregating inside Pearson’s baggage hall on Nov. 22, with many left wondering where their bags ended up.

“It was an absolute disaster,” one woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told CityNews. “Everyone’s reaction was, excuse the language, effing ridiculous. No one told [us] why there was such a delay. It was like, where is this stuff? Why is it taking so long?”

With the lack of communication adding to the frustration, the passenger explained to CityNews that she approached a Pearson baggage handler to get some answers.

“I went up to him and said, what’s the delay? He said they had no staff. That night, there were five baggage handlers for all incoming flights.”

The Pearson employee told the woman that, typically, there would be as many as 30 baggage handlers per shift at the Toronto airport.

Air Canada says they’re actively looking to hire more staff, providing CityNews with their current staffing totals on ground operations.

A spokesperson says there are just over 3,000 active employees, up 35 per cent from last year. The end-of-year projections have Air Canada at 3,600 employees at ground level, equivalent to 94 per cent of pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Delays at airport security check-in, baggage among concerns raised at summit last week 

Tori Gass, a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), says they’re seeing better staffing levels now compared to the summer.

“We’ve really recovered from that and are hoping to keep up that momentum into the holiday season,” Gass said.

Delays at security check-in and other problems at Canada’s airports were among the concerns raised last week, but the sector warns more remains to be done.

Canada’s Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, said that passenger volumes rose 280 per cent between February and June. The high passenger volumes and inadequate staffing levels contributed to a summer of lost baggage and flight disruptions, during which Toronto’s Pearson International Airport had the world’s worst record on delayed flights.

RELATED: Toronto Pearson surveyed as one of North America’s worst in customer satisfaction

A spokesperson for Minister Alghabra told CityNews that delays are “unacceptable.”

“We are entering the holiday season with a consistent reduction in wait times at security screening, before departure and on the tarmac across our largest airports,” the spokesperson added.

Various passengers recently spoke to CityNews and said they noticed an improvement, with one man saying it was much better and smoother than last Christmas when he and his family flew in and out of Pearson. Unlike what other passengers experienced last week, he said the transition to secure his baggage was “seamless.”

“We do have quiet periods,” Gass said.

“If you can, try and book a flight during those times. It’s very possible to avoid the really congested time of the day.”

Pearson recently introduced a new online tool that shows passengers and airport-goers when to expect delays based on the busiest time of the day.

The airport notes on its website to show up at least three hours in advance for flights to the US and international destinations and at least two hours in advance for flights within Canada during busy hours.

Toronto Pearson also announced in early November the launch of YYZ Express, which will allow customers on select flights to reserve their security screening spot in advance. Passengers can reserve a spot for individuals or groups of up to 10 on most domestic and international flights at both of the airport’s terminals, where they will be transferred to the express security line.

However, passengers must arrive within 15 minutes of the reservation time.

With files from The Canadian Press

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