MP says Ottawa underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel again post-pandemic

CALGARY — An MP says Ottawa may have underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel when planning for a return to normal after most pandemic-related restrictions end.

CALGARY — An MP says Ottawa may have underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel when planning for a return to normal after most pandemic-related restrictions end.

Airlines and airports have grappled with a surge in customers this summer, compounded by staffing shortages affecting both carriers and federal agencies.

As a result, travelers faced numerous flight cancellations, baggage delays and long lines, especially at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Last month, due to a glitch, the ArriveCan app asked about 10,200 travelers to self-quarantine for 10 days when they didn’t have to.

Annie Koutrakis, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, told reporters in Calgary on Tuesday that planning for a return to normal was a bit short.

“We anticipated. Yes, the planning started. What we underestimated, unfortunately, was the desire that everyone wanted to travel to and everyone wanted to travel to at the same time,” Koutrakis said.

“The data shows us that we didn’t expect everyone to start traveling to the extent that they have. It’s not like we’re waiting and planning behind the scenes to be ready for that. It’s just that more could have been done.”

Koutrakis said it was the first time the government had gone through a pandemic and there were lessons to be learned.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was asked about the delays at a House of Commons committee last week.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman asked him if the feds were responsible and Alghabra replied, “I blame COVID.” He pointed to labor shortages as the main contributor to the delays.

Koutrakis said the data indicates that dropping the ArriveCan app would increase delays and bottlenecks, and removing the mask mandate would not reduce wait times.

A statement from the Alghabra office says the government recognizes airport delays are frustrating for travelers and has met with airlines, airports and the public to address concerns.

He said progress was being made with the number of cancellations falling. In addition, during the second week of August, less than 2% of international arrivals in Toronto were held up on the tarmac due to congestion, compared to 18% during the first week of May.

He adds that 87% of passengers wait less than 15 minutes to pass through security, compared to 63% at the beginning of May.

Koutrakis announced nearly $2 million to help Calgary International Airport improve current and future flight schedules and connection times between flights, as well as establish dedicated lanes to enable physical distancing.

There were no representatives from any of the airlines during the announcement.

However, Bob Sartor, president and CEO of the Calgary Airports Authority, said carriers are having the same problems hiring enough staff.

“The reality is that they’re facing, to a greater extent, the issues that we’re facing at (Calgary airport) and that’s the need for additional staff,” Sartor said. “They did what we did as an airport and they downsized significantly during the pandemic.”

Sartor said recertifying pilots and obtaining personnel security clearances can take months.

“If we ever have one of these black swan events – and I pray we don’t – we need a consolidated aviation sector restart plan.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 23, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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