pearson airport

Toronto resident tells of nightmare experience flying into Pearson Airport this week

Between long security lineups, heavy baggage fees, overpriced snacks, stale air, screaming children, and the general abandonment of human decency among way too many fliers, air travel can be annoying even in the best of times.

In the week or so since Canada reopened its borders to vaccinated Americans after 18 months of COVID closures, it's been straight up hellish.

Passengers flying into and out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport have been complaining of complete chaos at the major hub since restrictions loosened for travellers last month — and not the good kind of chaos, but the kind caused by overcrowding and disorganization.

With more Canadians now going on vacation, people coming in from the U.S., and plans for the rest of the world to resume air travel to Canada next month, it wasn't hard to see this coming, so why haven't anticipatory measures been taken to keep things running smoothly?

It's a question that many recent air travellers wants answered after having horrible experiences at Pearson and other airports in recent weeks.

One of those travellers is Philip Suthons, who was recently trapped for 2.5 hours in a plane waiting on the tarmac at Pearson after a more than 13-hour-long flight from South Korea, only to learn after hours more of frantic searching that his bags had been lost.

Suthons says he arrived to Toronto from South Korea via flight AC062 on Saturday, August 14, around 5 p.m. He and his fellow passengers sat on the tarmac for 2.5 hours before they were allowed to exit the aircraft, but nobody was explicitly told why.

"The explanation was that they received a request from Canada customs. We were also told that too many flights arrived at the same time," he told blogTO.

"Some news outlets were attributing this to COVID measures, but that is definitely not true from what I saw. There were no COVID measures."

Suthons says that "there was no social distancing" being encouraged or enforced at Pearson while he was there.

After finally getting off the aircraft and clearing immigtation, Suthons says passengers then waited three hours for their baggage in the carousel area.

"There was no information on screens, so passengers did not know which carousel had their bags," Suthons said, noting that an Air Canada employee told him baggage information for each flight was cleared from the screens within two hours of that flight's landing.

"We were on the plane 2.5 hours after landing... no one thought to re-load the information," he said. "Bags were slow in arriving and many bags were sent to the wrong carousels, so passengers had to check all the carousels."

Suthons alleges that Air Canada didn't do anything to help remedy the problem and that "since there were bags from many flights and no personnel to manage the baggage arrival area, passengers started taking bags off the carousels."

With bags everywhere and nobody following any sort of physical distancing protocol, photos from the scene indeed look chaotic, but that wasn't even the worst part of the journey.

Imagine going through all of that and then learning that your baggage wasn't on any of the carousels?

"I obtained a customs release form from Air Canada and gave it to the border services guard," said Suthons of what happened after he couldn't find his bag.

"The border services people told me they would take care of it. Three days later I discovered that no report was submitted."

Apparently Suthons isn't the only person in Toronto who has yet to obtain their own luggage.

"I am extremely upset at your airline. I have waited five days for my bag that was delayed at Pearson airport coming into Canada," tweeted one recent flyer this week.

"Every time I try to call your baggage centre I am kept waiting for three hours before speaking to a representatives who say they cannot help me."

"Three hours waiting on the phone with Air Canada for baggage that never showed up at Pearson and they hang up on me!" tweeted another. "That's after flight being delayed three times and being grounded for 45 minutes. What’s going on?!"

Upsetting as the entire experience was, Suthons says his prime complaint is that this "disaster" (his words) could have been prevented.

"Someone must have known that many flights would arrive at the same time," he told blogTO. "The bags were not being loaded onto carousels. There was no one to inform passengers."

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson International Airport, told blogTO that "baggage delivery is the responsibility of the airline in question, in this case Air Canada."

"With regard to physical distancing, as you will have seen from our recent press release and our regular social media posts, since July 5 the Government of Canada now recognizes that in some areas of the airport, physical distancing of two metres may not be possible," wrote a representative for the organization.

"Government agencies at Toronto Pearson are working to process passengers as safely and efficiently as possible. COVID-19 related health screening measures implemented by the Government of Canada, coupled with the additional increase in passengers—including fully vaccinated Canadians and now US citizens—is a contributing factor to arrivals delays and the holding of passengers on planes and in waiting areas within the terminals."

Air Canada provided the following statement:

"Due lengthy processing times of arriving travellers by Canada Customs and space limitations within Toronto Pearson Terminal 1's arrival hall, Air Canada and other carriers are being required to keep customers onboard some international and U.S. flights arriving at the airport.
Due to the restrictions, customers are prevented from immediately deplaning the aircraft and instead are being required to remain on board until permitted by customs and airport authorities to deplane in small groups as space became available in the terminal (note: customers must wear masks in the terminal and observe other safety protocols, but since all arrivals in Canada are required to have tested negative for COVID-19 prior to their flight, social distancing requirements have been relaxed by the airport in order to expedite processing). 
Regrettably, these measures by third parties to control crowding in the terminal result in delays for our customers. They can also impact our baggage handling as crews are not able to unload aircraft as they normally would.
We continue to work with Toronto Pearson and all airport stakeholders to minimize inconvenience as passengers are screened to enter Canada.
For our part, Air Canada reminds customers on all international and transborder flights departing for Canada that the ArriveCan App must be completed prior to arrival to help streamline Customs processing to enter the country."

Lead photo by

Philip Suthons

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