Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday May 25, 2022
Airport madness must be fixed now
Had Dante Alighieri experienced the special torments of 21st-century passenger flight, there would surely have been another ring of Hell in his depictions.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, air travel had become a relentless accumulation of aggravations, from the time of parking (at exorbitant cost) on arrival at one airport until (unless it was lost) the claiming of baggage at another.
But the current state of affairs — as travel gradually returns to normal while COVID-19 protocols remain in place and understaffing prevails — has upped the misery index to unacceptable levels.
Near-endless lines for check-in and security. Passengers imprisoned in planes on the tarmac for hours after landing because of crowding inside terminals. More hours in jam-packed arrival lineups at customs caused by staffing shortages.
In all, what’s going on in Canadian airports at present is a recipe for chaos and anger, not to mention the abuse of flight attendants and frazzled, overburdened ground staff. And with the high-travel summer season only weeks away this dispiriting situation needs to be resolved fast.
The Canada Airports Council is calling on the federal government to scrap random COVID-19 tests and public-health questions at customs in order to ease the congestion travellers are being greeted with in Canada.
Such measures mean it takes four times longer to process passengers than it did before the pandemic, the council has said.
That was just barely tolerable when travel was down, but it’s become a serious problem now that people are starting to fly again in numbers.
The council said it makes little sense to retain such stringent testing measures in airports — facilities never designed for procedures that halt the flow of travellers into and out of the precincts — when they are no longer in place in the community.
The situation has been particularly bad at Pearson International Airport, Canada’s largest.
Before the pandemic it took an average of 15 to 30 seconds for a Canada Border Services Agency officer to clear an international passenger, the airport said. Now, “due to the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 health screening questions, this has increased the processing time at Canada’s borders by two to four times.”
Pearson blames the understaffed Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. The Canadian Airport Council blames the over-rigid COVID-19 safety regime. Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra even blamed travellers for being out of practice.
“Taking out the laptops, taking out the fluids — all that adds 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there,” he told reporters.
That sort of thing is likely to inflame rather than calm regular flyers — who have long since mastered the hassle-filled procedures of travel. It does raise the matter of fluids and whether the current security fixation on them is justified. State-of-the-art technology exists, and has already been installed at Shannon Airport in Ireland, that would allow the inspection of fluids, carried in normal amounts, and of laptops while still in cases, backpacks and computer bags.
For travellers in this country, bringing in such advanced techniques could not come too soon.
Alghabra also points to an increase in last-minute bookings as well as flight schedules that see too many planes arriving around the same time. His department says it’s trying to address the delays and hopes more screening personnel will be added by CATSA to speed up procedures.
Among those monitoring that progress will be the union representing flight attendants, who have effectively been asked to work for free since they are typically paid for time in the air, not for trying to control and placate ticked-off travellers on the ground.
There was a time — though you’d have to be rather long in the tooth to recall it — when airports were exciting, exotic, efficient. The charm of those quaint days has long passed. The experience has slipped from taxing, to miserable, to unendurable.
Exasperated travellers aren’t much interested in excuses, explanations and vague assurances. They just want the current hellishness fixed, and soon. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)