Domestic flight delays and cancellations rise as global standoff continues
MONTREAL — The majority of domestic flights to Canada’s busiest airports have been delayed or canceled over the past week as the effects of an overstretched international network continue to spread across the country.
According to analytics firm Data Wazo, some 54% of flights to the four largest airports were delayed in the seven days between June 22 and June 28.
More than 44% of the 4,815 flights were delayed while 8.5% were completely abandoned.
Toronto’s Pearson Airport tops the list, with 51% of flights delayed — more than 700 — and 12% canceled. Montreal finished second with 43% delay and 15% cancellation. The other two airports were Vancouver and Calgary.
Airlines and the federal government have scrambled to respond to the scenes of endless lines, flight disruptions, lost luggage and daily commotion at airports — especially Pearson — a problem the aviation industry blamed a shortage of federal security and customs officers in Canada on the Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).
John Gradek, director of McGill University’s aviation management program, says carriers have used Ottawa as a “scapegoat” by scheduling more flights than they have staff or planes to supply, resulting in delays and cancellations.
“Airlines have lost some of their mojo,” he said. “The government reacted and inflated resources, and we still have chaos.”
Canada’s airport security agency has hired more than 900 screening officers since April, although many remain in training. Ottawa also suspended randomized COVID-19 testing of vaccinated passengers from June 11 until at least Thursday following industry demands to process international travelers more quickly.
Federally regulated passengers and transportation workers are no longer required to be fully immunized to board a plane or train in Canada or to come to work.
Ray Harris, who runs Fredericton-based data company Data Wazo, said his numbers show flight disruptions did not improve in June, despite halted testing and staff returning to work, at the start of the peak travel season.
“It didn’t really move the needle in any direction,” he said in an interview. “Or maybe it accelerated it. But in the other direction, passengers have probably increased as well and so there’s a net zero effect.”
Harris is one of thousands of Canadians feeling the frustration personally. He was to fly with his girlfriend and three-year-old child to Toronto from Fredericton on June 9 for a four-day getaway. Air Canada canceled it 21 hours before departure. The modified flight, which had a four-hour layover in Montreal, was also canceled.
“We just went for a ride to PEI instead,” he said.
“I said fuck it, if I don’t have a vacation, I’m building a (data) dashboard.”
Philippe Rainville, CEO of the Montreal Airport Authority, said in an interview that global flight disruptions are having a ripple effect on domestic schedules.
“It’s a consequence of the delay in international flights,” he said. “Delaying a domestic flight is much easier because flying to major hubs in Europe the time slots are very tight. Domestically we have a lot more leeway.”
Baggage is a particularly tricky issue, with a shortage of porters to ferry suitcases from late arrivals to connecting planes amid last-minute gate changes.
“It creates a bottleneck and congestion and, to some extent, a nightmare,” Rainville said.
Problems in one part of the air transport pipeline can disrupt others, with overflowing customs areas preventing crews from disembarking, for example, or a lack of airline customer service agents exacerbating delays.
Flights performed on the tarmac can leave crew outside “duty time” – regulatory and contractual limits on hours worked – causing staff shortages. Officers immobilizing passengers on a delayed flight cannot cover check-in counters, causing delays in another part of the airport. Similar problems confront baggage handlers.
Passengers say they receive last-minute emails informing them of repeated delays, plane changes or new reservations scheduled days after the original departure time. The reasons cited run the gamut from missing pilots to unscheduled mechanical maintenance.
Long security lines also continue to plague airports amid continued staff shortages, from screeners to air traffic controllers.
” There’s not enough. And if you get sick, they get sick too,” said Helane Becker, aviation analyst for financial services firm Cowen.
Air Canada said it was continuing to hire, with 32,000 employees now on its payroll – near 2019 staffing levels – and its schedule operating at only 80% of 2019 volumes, the door said. -word Peter Fitzpatrick.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 29, 2022.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press