Pearson Airport turns to bolstered staffing, tech improvements to reduce travel chaos
May 8, 2023 By Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Bolstered staffing and technological improvements at Canada’s busiest airport will aim to prevent the chaos that travellers experienced last summer when flying in and out of Toronto Pearson International.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) said Monday it is better prepared for the summer travel rush to ensure passengers don’t face widespread delays and cancellations in the coming months.
“This summer will be very different and better than summer of 2022,” said GTAA president and CEO Deborah Flint.
“Our focus has been to rebuild the trust, to regain the confidence of our customers, to bring reliability and predictability to air travel.”
Since last summer, the airport has hired 10,000 new employees, giving it 22 per cent more staff, or 50,000 workers in total. The increase includes the hiring of 130 new staff announced last week to help in critical areas such as busing, baggage handling and terminal operations.
Flint said staffing levels are equivalent to 2019 as the airport expects about 80 per cent of the summer traffic it saw before the pandemic — a 10 per cent bump over last year.
She acknowledged the “anxiety” and “lack of control” felt by passengers last summer, calling it a unique travel season as traffic soared by 180 per cent after many pandemic restrictions were eased.
The surge led to overflowing baggage halls, stranded passengers and tens of thousands of flight cancellations, along with some complaints of passengers being stuck on the tarmac for more than an hour before unloading — an issue Flint said would not be repeated this summer thanks to the easing of health processing requirements at customs.
“It was a slingshot of a recovery last year,” she said.
“Our partners are simply more ready. It’s a more normal summer than it has been.”
Flint noted the airport’s on-time flight performance so far this year sits at 70 per cent, which included a smoother March break travel season, following an on-time performance of 35 per cent seen in summer 2022. Earlier this year, the GTAA capped the number of flights coming into and out of Pearson during peak travel periods in attempt to reduce traffic.
She said airport systems have also been modernized in preparation for the summer demand. Pearson has streamlined its contactless check-in and boarding processes through a new partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency to deploy biometric e-gates and expedite customs clearance for travellers.
That also includes an upgraded baggage system relying on AI designed to anticipate overloading and detect potential breakdowns before they occur.
Meanwhile, Flint touted a new standard to better understand airlines readiness and contingency plans. She said the GTAA will gather data to hold airlines accountable on proper training and staffing availability when handling baggage, with the goal of reducing baggage recirculation, maintaining system capacity and reducing delays at check-in and departure.
Flint conceded that air travel won’t be perfect despite the improvements, due to “pandemic spillover effects like labour softness,” along with issues caused by weather conditions.
“It is still travel after all,” she said.
“We know irregular operations are going to happen and passengers need to have faster, better information around flight delays or potential cancellations. Airlines and agencies are sharing more with us and with passengers as well.”
With files from Kiernan Green in Toronto
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