A member of Parliament says Ottawa may have underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel when planning a return to normalcy after most pandemic restrictions end.
Airlines and airports have faced a surge in customers this summer, coupled with staffing shortages affecting both carriers and federal agencies.
As a result, travelers have experienced widespread flight cancellations, baggage delays and long lines, particularly at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
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Last month, due to a glitch, the ArriveCan app instructed about 10,200 travelers to quarantine for 10 days when it was not necessary.
Annie Koutrakis, parliamentary secretary to the transport minister, told reporters in Calgary on Tuesday that planning for a return to normality fell short.
“We have foreseen it. Yes, the planning has begun. What we unfortunately underestimated was the desire that everyone wanted to travel and everyone wanted to travel at the same time,” Koutrakis said.
“The data tells us that we didn’t expect everyone to start traveling at the rate that they did. It’s not like we weren’t waiting and planning behind the scenes to be ready for it. It just could have been done more.”
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Koutrakis said this is the first time the government has gone through a pandemic like COVID-19 and that there are lessons to be learned.
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Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was concerned about the delays at a House of Commons committee last week.
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman asked if the federal government bears any responsibility, and Alghabra replied: “I blame it for COVID.” He pointed to labor shortages as the main contributor to the delays.
Koutrakis said data shows that abandoning the ArriveCan app would increase delays and bottlenecks, and removing the mask mandate would not reduce wait times.
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Koutrakis announced nearly $2 million to help Calgary International Airport improve current and future flight scheduling and connection times between flights, as well as create dedicated corridors to enable physical distancing.
There were no representatives from any of the airlines at the announcement. But Bob Sartor, president and CEO of the Calgary Airport Authority, said carriers are suffering from the same problems in hiring enough staff.
“The reality is that they are facing to a greater extent the issues that we face at YYC and that is the need for additional staff. They did what we did as an airport and they reduced their staff significantly during the pandemic,” Sartor said.
Sartor said recertifying pilots and obtaining staff security clearances could take months to complete.
“Sometimes it can be two or three months… There are a few things that have to happen, and one of the things is that we have to certify the pilots. We need to have more staff like the air carriers do,” Sartor said.
“If we ever have one of these Black Swan events – and I pray we don’t – we need a consolidated aviation sector recovery plan.”
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