With Pearson airport plugged, London travelers may have an edge this summer

Scott McFadzean certainly takes no joy at seeing news stories about passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport struggling with long lines and delays as the summer travel season ramps up.

Hours-long waits to deplane, clear security, pass customs and collect luggage have led to enormous headaches for many who’ve had to travel through Canada’s busiest airport in recent weeks. The problems have led to canceled flights and stir up outrage. The federal government has promised to fix the problems, which they say are caused by a surge in travel volumes after COVID-19 lifted restrictions.

But as CEO of London International Airport, McFadzean points out that travelers can often go from the parking lot to the departure lounge of his airport in about 15 minutes.

London’s airport has seen its passenger numbers drop sharply during the pandemic. It handles 600,000 passengers in 2019, but just over 100,000 in 2021. (James Chaarani/CBC)

“We’ve had an ongoing joke internally here that someone living beside Pearson could actually drive to London, get on a flight here and beat their friend who went into the lineup at Pearson and through security,” said McFadzean.

McFadzean said London isn’t facing the same kind of surge in travelers or staffing shortages problems that have caused congestion at Pearson.

He said by going through security and checking their bags in London, even passengers who connect through Pearson after starting their trip in London can, in many cases, avoid delays.

But McFadzean said staffing shortages at Pearson can’t take the full blame. He says COVID-19 travel protocols are also the cause of unnecessary slowdowns. Passengers are still subject to COVID-19 screening, proof of vaccination checks and US bound passengers have to also provide proof of a negative antigen test 24 hours before their trip.

Sisters Susan and Catherine Roney were waiting in the departure lounge of London’s airport on Thursday after a two-week trip visiting London from Charlottetown, PEI They went through Pearson at the start of their trip and had to make their own way to London when the Toronto -to-London leg of their flight segment was cancelled.

“We ended up taking a limo to get here,” said Susan Roney.

They had a London-to-Toronto jump on the return trip but were happy to be going through security in London, and not in Toronto.

“It’s been a hassle with the cancellations, but it’s good we’re not going through security in Toronto,” said Catherine Roney.

“I spent two years not doing any travel, and at my age, I don’t have a lot of time to waste,” she said.

Wants restrictions lifted

McFadzean’s view is that it’s time to lift the restrictions to get air travel flowing normally again.

“We really encourage the federal government to lift all restrictions and allow passengers to make their own choices and get back to traveling comfortably and safely,” he said. “There’s a lot of added steps in the process when you’re having to show your vaccination status, having to show your proof of negative antigen test in the case of traveling transborder. So there’s just a lot of extra steps that are further the system.”

In 2019, the last full year of travel before the pandemic hit North America, more than 600,000 passengers flowed through London’s airport.

That dropped to just over 200,000 passengers in 2020. Instead of rebounding in 2021, passenger numbers dropped again, this time to just over 100,000.

McFadzean is projecting passenger numbers to increase to about 250,000 this year.

“We should see that as we approach the winter travel season, and 2023 looks much stronger,” he said.

The list of available departures out of London hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, but McFadzean said there are a number of popular destinations, including:

  • Daily flights to Calgary with WestJet.
  • Four weekly trips to Edmonton with Swoop Airlines.
  • Three daily WestJet flights to Toronto Pearson.
  • Four daily flights to Toronto Pearson with Air Canada.

McFadzean said another destination will be added in an announcement expected next week. He said the winter schedule is also looking good with about a half-dozen sun destinations expected, including Mexico, Jamaica, Florida and the Dominican Republic.

“We’re going to continue to add more routes and get the airport to pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

McFadzean said while the number of leisure trips are rebounding nicely post-COVID-19, it’s not the same story with business travel. Business travelers are essential to the travel industry’s bottom line because they take more trips and tend to pay premium fares.

Frustrations mount over delays at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport

Extremely long wait times affecting arriving and departing passengers at Toronto’s Pearson airport are likely to continue until Labor Day, a former Air Canada executive says.

“A lot of businesses still haven’t returned to travel or even returned to office work,” he said. “It’s still a missing piece, and industry-wide, the jury is still out on when it will return.”

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