The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging the Canadian government to take immediate action, including removing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, to deal with the delays plaguing the country's biggest airports.
The airline lobby group, which represents 290 airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat, released a statement on Tuesday calling on the federal government "to reduce the massive delays and immigration and security which are presently occurring at the country's main international airports."
IATA pointed to delays at Toronto's Pearson International Airport as an example of the ongoing issues disrupting the aviation industry. The group says security wait times at the airport have doubled – and even quadrupled in some cases – in recent weeks. At the same time, it says every second flight landing at Pearson from abroad has been subject to an immigration delay, with some passengers waiting on planes for up to three hours before being allowed to disembark.
"Demand is coming back and it is clear that people want to travel. We can therefore ill afford to have passengers subjected to unacceptable wait times both on arrival in the country or on departure," Peter Cerda, IATA's regional vice-president for the Americas, said in the statement.
"The relevant authorities must urgently consider removing the last remaining travel-related COVID-19 restrictions and work with the industry on policies and processes which will allow passengers to pass through airports with no undue delay."
The airline group says Ottawa should remove the current vaccination mandate for travel, as well as the use of ArriveCAN for submitting health information and the random on-arrival testing for COVID-19.
Should the government leave the current travel requirements in place, IATA is offering up several suggestions to speed up the arrivals process, particularly when it comes to the use of ArriveCAN, the government platform used to provide mandatory travel information.
IATA says the government should introduce dedicated immigration lanes for international passengers who did not provide required health and vaccination information in advance through ArriveCAN. According to the group, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data shows that it takes three to five minutes to complete the immigration process for passengers who haven't completed the ArriveCAN process in advance, compared to 15 to 30 seconds for those that have.
IATA also says the app should be upgraded to include immigration and customs questions, so international passengers can submit relevant information in advance, a process that is currently only available on the web-based ArriveCAN version in Toronto and Vancouver.
The group also says on-arrival testing facilities should be moved from the terminal, or offer a home-testing option.
Passengers departing from and arriving at some Canadian airports have experienced significant delays in recent weeks as travel demand picks back up after the pandemic. The Canadian Airports Council has blamed COVID-19 protocols for the delays and has called on the federal government to do away with the random tests and public health questions at customs so as to ease the delays.
"We're seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel," the council's interim president Monette Pasher said.
"Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can't co-exist without a significant pressure and strain on our system."
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said earlier this month that staffing challenges at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) are contributing to long lines at Pearson. IATA says Ottawa should ensure that both the CBSA and CATSA have adequate staffing levels to ensure efficient immigration and screening processes.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said on May 11 that the security agency is increasing its staffing, but that a lack of workers is not the main culprit for the long delays at the airports. Alghabra says out-of-practice travellers are causing delays at security checkpoints as Canadians shift back into travel mode after spending most of the last two years grounded by COVID-19.
With files from The Canadian Press
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.