Canada's NDP


June 17th, 2022

Delays at Airports and with Passports both Predictable and Preventable

After the past two years, people are getting ready to travel the world once again. A surge in travelers was to be expected. Whether people are looking to meet family in other countries, attend international business meetings, or just trying to take a well-deserved vacation, the demand for travel has seldom been higher. However, that demand is hitting a few bottlenecks that keep the experience from being pleasant, with delays, cancellations and chaos at airports adding to travelers’ anxiety.

The first major issue travelers have been facing is getting their passports renewed. Predictably, as soon as international travel restarted in earnest, Service Canada became overwhelmed with passport requests. While hardly a good period to measure normal demand, 363,000 passports were issued between the start of April 2020 and the end of March 2021. The following year, 1,273,000 passports were issued in that same period, with 75 percent (960,000) of those issued in the last 6 months of that period. With pent up demand, those applications are skyrocketing this year, with Service Canada estimating anywhere between 3.6 million to 4.3 million passport applications this year.

This pent-up demand was obvious. Canadian travelers who delayed plans to travel throughout the pandemic are now getting that opportunity, so a bottleneck in applications should have been anticipated, but the government seemed to have not anticipated this, and didn’t apply the additional resources necessary to keep up. While some 600 additional staff have been hired to address the backlogs at Service Canada, and an additional 600 redirected to deal with passport applications, these are issues that needed to be addressed not now, but before the influx occurred.

Delays in passport processing times are significant, but do not compare to the chaos we are seeing at airports. Major airports across the country have seen hours-long wait times for check-ins, security, and customs, particularly at international hubs like Pearson. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada notes that processing of passengers by government agents, such as customs agents, used to take an average of 30 seconds per person pre-pandemic. That has grown to two minutes, four times as long since the pandemic started. Couple this with shortages of actual agents due to recruitment challenges and low wages at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).

This week, the government announced suspension of all Covid-19 vaccine mandates for air travel for domestic or outbound travel, but all re-entry requirements, including current testing and quarantine requirements upon re-entry from international destinations, will remain. Foreign nationals coming into Canada will still be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter, as will the use of the ArriveCAN app, to avoid federal quarantine requirements upon arrival from international travel. This obviously also does not affect foreign vaccination requirements, such as the U.S., which does require proof of vaccination to enter their country.

This is welcome news. It may alleviate some of the burden at airports, but certainly will not be a fix-all for the long lines, delays, and cancellations. The government knew there would be issues once the border would reopen, and without a clear plan to reopen the border safely in a way that would address situations that were likely to arise, such as dealing with staffing levels and addressing potential delays, was foolhardy. New Democrats have been pushing the government to develop a Safe Border Task Force since the beginning of the pandemic that would have ensured clear plans for the post-pandemic reopening at border crossings. The government didn’t heed those calls from people like Windsor West MP Brian Masse, who’s riding has the busiest land border in the country, and who knows all too well that easing border restrictions is not as simple as flipping a switch.

The government needs to be very clear about how they intend on addressing these delays and disruptions and be transparent about how decisions are being made on public health measures. They also need to work with CATSA employees to streamline their work and compensate them fairly. The alternatives will only continue to hurt our travel and tourism industry.