June 8, 2022 By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal
THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Landing in Toronto on a flight after an effortless tour of Europe, Erika and Edward Maki sat on their plane for 30 minutes before they could disembark and head through Canadian customs.
“Everything was going well and then they flagged my passport with a pink sticker for a random COVID test,” Edward said.
With a few minutes to spare, they arrived at the boarding gate to learn the flight will only take half of the passengers because there is bad weather in Thunder Bay. Minutes later, they were told the plane will take everyone.
“I remember looking out the window and noticed the suitcase buggy sitting by the plane with all our luggage . . . and it drives away, with our luggage, then arrives back a few minutes later,” Edward said.
“They start loading about six pieces of the luggage and stop. The worker listens to his radio and they start taking the luggage back off the plane. That’s when everybody’s phone started going off with the message saying that they were cancelling the flight to Thunder Bay.”
Edward noticed the departure and arrival board and said, “It was just red — all flights cancelled — and I’m guessing I don’t think there are storms everywhere.”
By 8:30 p.m., they learned they were flying out of Toronto the next day and began to search for a hotel room. The only room available near the airport cost $1,000 and up so they decided to rent a vehicle to drive further from the airport.
“We went to every car rental place in the airport, and they had no cars available and we thought, `what do we do?”’
The Maki couple jumped on a bus and went to Brampton where friends put them up for the night.
Flight cancellations and lengthy delays in Canada’s largest airports are causing plenty of anxiety for travellers. With many COVID-19 pandemic restrictions still in place, there isn’t enough personnel to receive the large capacity of people who are once again travelling.
Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, says there is a domino effect that develops around the delays that strand travellers across the country, particularly in Canada-U.S. border airports. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been working with the standing committee in Parliament on transportation infrastructure trying to find ways to make air travel work better.
“There have been major delays and then that’s delaying the folks trying to get the connecting flights to smaller communities like Thunder Bay,” Robinson said. “You could be sitting on a plane for an hour waiting to disembark because of the long lines (inside) going through the various checks that are in place.”
She says the multiple checks now required at all the security points are causing major gridlock in the airport, which is restricting the planes that are coming in and out because there just isn’t capacity to have that many passengers in the terminal.
“The chamber is pushing the government to look at what restrictions are still required and what can be removed. A lot of other countries have removed a variety of these restrictions that are now creating a barrier to travel in our country,” she said.
More challenges arise with the new COVID-19 security requirements that have added time to process passengers.
Robinson said perhaps technology can play a bigger part in alleviating long lineups by expediting travellers automatically through the screening system.
Adjusting COVID-19 restrictions or even developing a trusted traveller program for frequent flyers might help with the problems.