pearson airport delay

Here's how to get through Pearson Airport faster amid huge delays

After two years of on-and-off orders to avoid any and all non-essential travel, COVID fears, and stringent entry testing regimens and other requirements, people are more than eager to get back into the air again, and airports like Toronto Pearson have been absolutely hectic as a result.

Airlines and airport personnel on the ground are now struggling to keep up with a sudden surge in demand for travel both domestic and abroad after flight schedules were drastically slashed and employees laid off en masse over the course of the pandemic.

And if you haven't experienced an even-more-chaotic-than-usual travel day at Pearson just yet, you've definitely heard the horror stories of passengers waiting in never-ending lineups for hours or getting stuck in planes on the tarmac for just as long lately.

Though staffing issues and proof-of-vaccination rules are huge and unavoidable factors in the madness, there are some ways that travellers can ensure that their trip goes as smoothly — and quickly — as possible from before they get on the plane.

Get to the airport earlier than you would have pre-COVID

This is an obvious one.

Groups such as the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and Air Canada have been advising customers to arrive at least 2 hours prior to their flight if it's domestic, and at least 3 hours prior if it's international, especially early in the morning.

This is a much larger window than the previous standard recommendations of an hour for domestic routes and 1.5 hours for outside of Canada.

U.S. travellers have to clear American customs at Pearson before boarding, and given staff shortages at both customs and security, allotting way more time than you expect is never a bad idea.

Boarding for flights usually starts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before departure, so aim to get to the gate well before your actual takeoff time, and keep traffic, weather conditions, and transit schedules in mind.

(For reference, the UP Express now leaves from Union Station every 30 minutes starting at 5:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekends.)

Check-in beforehand and make sure all your documents are in order

The health crisis has meant additional measures at borders, including proof of a negative COVID-19 test, a quarantine plan and possibly more depending on where you're travelling.

Anyone 12 and over boarding a plane or train in Canada must have a mask and proof of two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and some countries will require the same documentation, or even proof of a third shot.

American customs may also ask you specifics about where you're staying, the purpose of your trip, how you know your travel companions, etc., so make sure to have addresses and other details on hand to get through as fast as possible, along with your boarding pass and passport.

And, of course, checking in to your flight online beforehand will expedite the process once you get to the terminal — if you're not checking any bags, you can walk right to security with your ticket, as emailed to you, in hand.

Make sure all your belongings are in order

If you're not a frequent flyer, it's easy to forget the necessary steps at security, which can then slow down the process for everyone.

At Pearson, each security line has multiple stations at which bins for your stuff will appear on a conveyer below. There also may be a special line for families and passengers with special needs.

Make sure all water bottles and other large containers of liquids are packed in checked luggage, emptied out or disposed of pre-clearance; put all liquids and gels you're taking on board in a clear plastic resealable bag and separate them out of your luggage in the security bin; remove all laptops and tablets and put them in their own security bin. 

Take out medications for potential inspection; and remove jackets, hats, chunky boots, jewelry, cell phones, change, and anything else that may set off the metal detectors or show up on a body scanner (even scrunchies can lead to a stop by an officer).

Remember: each liquid, gel and aerosol spray container (including makeup, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) must be 100 ml/3.4 oz or smaller unless they are medication, baby formula or breast milk, and must altogether fit into the 1 L plastic bag provided.

You can always check the list of what is and is not permitted aboard the plane before you pack your bag.

And, for checked luggage, if you're not prepared to pay for overweight fees, use a handheld luggage scale at home to make sure you won't have to sit and embarassingly rearrange your bags at check-in.

Follow best practices for boarding and luggage

Be prepared to board with the zone listed on your ticket when called, and make sure you have only one appropriately-sized carry-on bag and one personal item, like a purse or backpack, with you.

There will almost always also be an option to check your hand luggage at the gate at no cost in order to free up overhead bin space.

Once on the plane, stowing your bags improperly can lead to even more delays as people wait behind you and flight attendants have to follow behind to rejig things.

Make sure that roller bags are stored on their side (if they fit) in the overhead bin; that duffel bags are placed not width-wise, but lengthwise front to back in the bin; and that your second, smaller item (along with coats, hats, etc.) is stored under the seat in front of you to maximize space and save time for others.

If everyone does so and gets to their seat with their seatbelt fastened ASAP, the flight is far more likely to actually leave on time.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

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