• Kevin Lamport

Good times at Toronto Pearson airport - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less


I had the misfortune of flying through Toronto Pearson airport the other day. Never a box full of fun, even pre-pandemic, the entire experience could best be described as miserable. For once, the media’s hysterical reporting was essentially accurate: huge lineups at security and customs, countless flight delays, overcrowded seating areas, restaurants without adequate capacity... If you can take an alternate route to your summer travel destination through any other Canadian airport, I suggest you do so, at least until our transport minister stops blaming out-of-practice passengers for the airport chaos and instead acts in the best interest of Canadians, rather than passing the buck onto a crisis that no longer exists.


When it comes to the Pearson shit-show, there’s plenty of blame to go around but the problems start with the Liberal government and their insistence that passengers use the ArriveCan app. Buggy and over complicated, the app usually takes several attempts to fill out correctly. A twelve-year-old iPad genius might get it right the first time, assuming the app doesn’t crash, but if you’re a technically challenged individual, forget about ever getting it right.


Canada customs, a powerful entity filled with over achievers who’ve all been told they’re the last line of the country’s defence, won’t deign to help anyone who is baffled by the app or who hasn’t filled it in correctly. These often extraordinarily arrogant “agents” don’t care they are second in line behind the man-child and Omar Alghabra when it comes to Pearson pandemonium. Are you confused and overwhelmed by the customs process?


Don’t care.


Missed connection?


Don’t care.


Suffered an extra hour on board an airplane, waiting for an agent to do his job?


Don’t care. They're far too busy ensuring the country doesn’t boil over with drugs, guns, illegal immigrants, draft dodgers, unregistered pets, GNC supplements…


…uhm…never mind…I got sidetracked for a moment.


Canada customs is the point at which the problems at Pearson really start accelerating.


Third in line is rampant under staffing by literally every company, organization or entity involved in getting a flight airborne. The flight I was on pushed-back over two hours late because Gate Gourmet, the catering company responsible for keeping thousands of passengers fed and watered, is so understaffed they can’t possibly fill a truck with meals and beverages, drive to a widebody carrying three hundred passengers, unload the old catering from the inbound flight, restock it with fresh stuff and then return to the kitchen and start the entire process again. Not in a timely fashion.


Unfortunately, passengers on airplanes only “see” the end game, the delays, the misconnections, etcetera. They don’t tend to think about all the moving parts that had to work together in order to get the airplane off the gate at departure and onto the gate at arrival. All they think about is deplaning immediately after the seatbelt sign is selected Off. When that doesn’t happen, their first instinct is to blame the airline. They point fingers and indignantly claim, “I’ll never fly Air Canada again!”


Canadians love to support the underdog. We love to dislike the big guy. This can be an admirable trait when you’re buying your morning latte; why not get it at a locally owned coffee shop instead of Starbucks? It’s much less admirable when we are vilifying the success of a certain individual or going on about how much we despise a large business, often for no other reason than the person’s wealth or the corporation’s size.


Recently an individual told me she hated Air Canada, knowing full well that I proudly and happily work for the company. I’ll never understand why someone thinks that kind of rudeness and disrespect is acceptable, but that’s a different topic for another day. I asked her why she held that opinion.


She said, “They always lose your luggage.”


Huh?


What kind of ridiculous nonsense was this? Where did something so outrageously incorrect come from?


She told me that she knew someone, who knew someone, who travelled from the interior of BC to Halifax and upon landing, learned of a family emergency. This individual immediately climbed on a plane and returned to the west coast. His suitcase wasn’t in Vancouver when he arrived at baggage claim…she told me this last bit in a triumphant, I-told-you-so tone.


I had to restrain a laugh at her ignorance. I mean, crossing the second largest country in the world from one coast to the other, and then back again on the same day, would have involved multiple sectors and tight connections, never mind introducing a significant unscheduled change. Give the airline a fighting chance, for the love of common sense.


I travel a great deal for both work and leisure, and I only remember one time my luggage didn’t arrive with me. This happened in the late nineties when I lived in Ottawa and spent a great deal of my working life in Belgium. I’d commute from Ottawa to Montreal and fly on Sabena (a now defunct Belgian airline), to Brussels. Two weeks later, I’d return home. On one such trip, my checked bag wasn’t in Montreal when I landed. I went to lost baggage claim, looked at the pictures, identified the style of my bag, filled out the appropriate paperwork. I was given a 1-800 number to use in the event of follow up questions. For some reason, the phone number connected me to Delta Airlines in Atlanta. So, basically, I flew from Brussels to Montreal on a Belgian airline, commuted to Ottawa in a limousine, and was told to phone a 1-800 number that connected me to a different airline in an unrelated country.


I was fairly confident that suitcase was gone forever.


Four days later it was couriered to my home.


The point being, airlines seldom lose bags. When they do, they typically show up in a few short days. If they do disappear forever, there are compensation mechanisms. And, let’s face it, what have you really lost? Clothes and toiletries. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but usually that’s it, unless you’re a complete moron. Anything important such as medicine, paperwork or valuables should be close at hand, in your carry-on bag and not in checked luggage.


Lost luggage is an inconvenience and a frustration. It’s not life altering. Certainly not enough to claim, “I’ll never fly Air Canada again!” When I hear stupidity like that, it’s generally from someone who doesn’t fly often and has very little experience on which to lean. In the last year alone, I’ve flown on several different airlines including Lufthansa, Agean, Air Canada and British Airways and I have to say, the experience is much the same from one airline to the next.


I asked this incensed individual (hoping for, but not expecting a certain level of rational consideration), if she’d ever thought about what must take place in order for a plane to travel from one country to another. I explained, “You take your seat on the airplane. The pilot comes on the PA and tells you that he expects to push-back on schedule. He tells you that in such-and-such a time, he’ll land at your destination and when he does, the weather will be such-and-such. He tells you when he expects to turn on the seatbelt sign because of forecast turbulence. He tells you to, ‘Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.’


“For the most part, that’s what you do. You have a drink, eat a meal, watch a movie, have a nap, eat another meal. Within minutes of when the pilot said he’d land, he does. The weather is exactly as he told you it would be. You get off the plane, several hundred (or thousand miles), from where you boarded, and in almost every case, you claim your luggage.” To my mind, it's nothing short of a modern miracle that this process happens seamlessly for the most part, literally thousands of times a day in every country around the world.


And, remember, this simplified description doesn’t consider countless behind-the-scenes details that have to happen, often in a specific order, to get a flight airborne. Catering, fuelling, maintenance, security, customs, flight planning, meteorology, crew training, federal regulations… The list is practically endless and if one of these systems fails, if one entity doesn’t do its job, the entire system breaks…


…which is what we’re seeing in Toronto.


Now, I realize a person could nit-pick this post and tell me this-and-that happened to me,


and someone was rude,


and customer service didn’t help,


and the airline should have done so-and-so,


and I would empathise because I’ve been caught in the system too. I know how exhausting and aggravating the process is. Sadly, for the next little while, you’re going to have to buckle-up and hold on while the entities involved, catch up.

I don’t know where everyone went; pre-pandemic all the various organizations I’ve mentioned were fully staffed. Today, the priority should be (and probably is), finding and re-hiring people to help mitigate the resultant problems. That’s easier said than done. It takes time to find, hire and train good employees. Possibly the process should have started several months ago; after-all the return to travel was entirely predictable, although I’m not sure anyone foresaw the speed and volume at which the return happened.


Topping up staffing levels will alleviate the situation in Toronto and by extension, the rest of the country but until Ottawa conforms to the same standard as the rest of the world and drops onerous and unnecessary Covid restrictions, particularly the ArriveCan App, travel through Toronto Pearson will continue to be a waking nightmare. If you do have travel plans, hopefully you’ll recognize the delays aren’t necessarily the airline's fault. They come from multiple directions. Remember too, just because the pilots are driving, doesn’t mean they aren’t as frustrated as you. They are typically strong, type A personalities. They very much want to leave on time and like you, they’re hamstrung by the exact same problems.


I wish you luck and patience and if you're compelled to complain, direct your anger in the right direction. Send a strongly worded letter to Justin and Omar. History proves they won’t listen but nonetheless, you might feel some satisfaction. At the very least, take heart in the little victories. In a country plagued by enormous government induced debt and runaway inflation, postage to a member of parliament remains free.


Kevin


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