John Ivison: Transport minister thinks he's done all he can to alleviate airport chaos. He's wrong

john ivison: transport minister thinks he's done all he can to alleviate airport chaos. he's wrong
© Provided by National Post Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

OTTAWA — On the same day a report surfaced suggesting more than half the flights at Canada’s overcrowded major airports are either delayed or cancelled, the government announced that it plans to maintain the current border measures for passengers entering the country until Sept. 30, including the ArriveCAN app that unions claim contributes to a 400 per cent increase in traveller processing times.

It’s political bloody-mindedness akin to someone falling in the river and insisting on floating upstream.

Omar Alghabra, the transport minister, was unapologetic in an interview, saying that ArriveCAN is a necessary tool to verify vaccination status, even though there are just 15,047 COVID cases in the country, according to the most recent statistics from the Public Health Agency. “This is about making the process smoother. Some people are uneasy about it because it’s a new tool, and we will work with people to ensure it improves travellers’ experience,” he said.

Alghabra pointed out that the federal government has temporarily suspended random testing in airports, at least until it works out the logistics of an automated process that tests passengers away from the airport. The government has also suspended domestic travel vaccine mandates and hired 1,000 staff at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which is charged with airport security. “We’ve done everything that is in the jurisdiction of the federal government (to reduce congestion at airports),” he said.

Alghabra said he finds the stories of passengers facing multiple flight cancellations and being forced to sleep on airport floors with their children, to be “completely unacceptable.”

“Honestly, it’s breaking my heart. I find it embarrassing….

“But we’re taking action. And let’s be clear, and this is a verifiable fact easily checked on Google, significant airports around the world are experiencing similar or even worse congestion,” he said.

He said airports and airlines laid off most of their staff during the pandemic and have not been able to rehire quickly enough to keep pace with skyrocketing demand. (While passenger numbers have increased in recent weeks, they are still only around 90 per cent of their pre-pandemic level.)

What is clear is that airlines around the world are partially culpable for restoring their pre-pandemic flight schedules when they were aware that the entire travel network is fragile. Air Canada is operating 80 per cent of its pre-pandemic schedule and WestJet 90 per cent.

Alghabra said that he met with the chief executive of Greater Toronto Airport Authority, Deborah Flint, on Wednesday and is set to meet with the chief executives of Air Canada (Michael Rousseau) and WestJet (Alexis von Hoensbroech) on Thursday.

“I am making the point extremely clearly — crystal clear — that they need to solve their operational issues,” he said.

He said the airlines have a responsibility to their customers, but it does not sound as if the federal government will ensure those responsibilities are met, for example by asking airlines to fly fewer flights or to reduce the numbers of passengers. “I’m going to let them make their own operational decisions,” he said.

Travellers do have recourse to the Passenger Bill of Rights, introduced in 2018, which can result in financial penalties if airlines are judged by the Canadian Transportation Agency to have failed to provide value for the service promised (which would cover about 50 per cent of all flyers at the moment).

But that’s a cumbersome process that is not likely to address the chaos afflicting many airports.

Airports could reduce overcrowding by reverting to global check-in standards of 60 minutes for international flights and 45 minutes for domestic flights, rather than the current advisory in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver of three hours. Again, Alghabra said he will leave that decision up to airports. “There is a reason we set up operational independence — to try to avoid the risk of politicizing operational decisions,” he said.

In any other circumstance that is an admirable sentiment but neither cash-strapped airports nor airlines are going to voluntarily reduce the number of paying customers.

“My job is to ensure everyone works together to make it a safe and enjoyable experience, which unfortunately right now many stories suggest is not the case,” he said.

It is indeed the transport minister’s job to guarantee a safe and efficient system. But not only can he not guarantee that, he can’t even offer passengers faint hope about when things will get better.

“On the timing, leadership needs to be honest. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world and it would be irresponsible to give a definitive forecast about when things will improve. I can tell you that things will improve and they are moving in the right direction. But I need to be honest. Can I predict what the future will hold? No, I can’t.”

• Email: jivison@postmedia.com | Twitter: IvisonJ

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Palay-Palay  National ParkAbout PagudpudFive Levels of Aguinid FallsIntroducing San Pascual, MasbateMount Manmanoc ItineraryAdventures in Fortune Island of Nasugbu | LakwatseroNext Level Mobile Photography with Sony Xperia XZ1 | LakwatseroScuba Diving in Siargao: Discovering the Underwater Treasures of Daku Island | LakwatseroAbout Davao CityHow to Get to AndaJanuary: Cebu & IloiloHow to Get to Mines View ParkKamay ni Hesus: Pilgrimage Site in Lucban | LakwatseroPoon Hill: Three Days of Himalayan AdventureCalvary Hill Cemetery of SagadaHow to Get to TambobongMilford SoundTen Things To Do in Sagada: Bucket List for NewbiesDahoyhoy FallsPilot for a Day: The Ultra Light Aircraft Experience | LakwatseroReal Coffee and Tea Cafe of Boracay | LakwatseroGhorepani Poon Hill TrekAbout Maniwaya IslandHow to Get to Binanga FallsPalo Alto Falls of Baras, Rizal | LakwatseroExplore Moscow: Best Things to Do in the City | LakwatseroStairway to HeavenMount Guiting-Guiting Overnight Trek Complete ItineraryCape Melville LighthouseLa Cathedral Café: Restaurant with a View in IntramurosKapurpurawan Rock Formation: White and BeautifulDay Hike ItineraryThe Sandbox at AlvieraHow to go to Mararison IslandA Weekend of Adventures in South Cebu and DumagueteCalayan Island: A Virtual Diary of Our Epic Journey | LakwatseroFaro de Isla Jintotolo (Jintotolo Island Lighthouse)Low’s PeakAbout Taal VolcanoHow to Get to Mag-aso Falls of BoholSamar: Biri Rock Formations Up Close | LakwatseroBonbon BeachIntroducing Jomalig IslandAbout Cotabato CityAbout TabukLeyte Landing Memorial: A Memorial for a Fulfilled Promise | LakwatseroSilyang Bato, Mount MaramiPanimahawa Ridge and Cedar Falls Day Hike ItineraryFun in the World’s Best IslandSample Albay ItinerariesMagpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools6 Tips for Living in the Philippines | LakwatseroDaraga Church: The Nuestra Señora dela Porteria ChurchTulgao Rice TerracesCape Melville Lighthouse (Faro del Cabo Melville)Canyoneering to Kawasan FallsLake FewaLong Weekend: Five-Day Suggested Itineraries in Luzon | LakwatseroAbout CaponesThe Wichcraft Café of Zamboanga City | LakwatseroHow to Get to GuiuanAll-Female FloorHow to Get to Neri’s VilleDiotay’s EateryShort but Sweet Melaka Getaway | LakwatseroHow to Get to Tinuy-An FallsOslob: The Lost Grandeur of Tumalog Falls | LakwatseroIlocos ItineraryDitumabo Falls: The Mother Falls of San Luis, Aurora!Biking in Kalinga: Trek and Bike to TabukParadise Garden: A Haven for Sea TurtlesSiargao: Magpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools | LakwatseroAbout Bucas GrandeCoral GardenSagadaA Walk in Sangay Siapo Island Before it is Gone? | LakwatseroAmbaguio-Akiki ItineraryCorregidor Island Lighthouse (Faro dela Isla de Corregidor)Faro de Punta de Malabrigo (Malabrigo Point Lighthouse)About CulionNaidi Hill LighthouseBoquete IslandHow to Commute to Temple of LeahCatanduanes: The Heritage Church of Bato | Lakwatsero1. White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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Cruz Grande IslandBasilica de San Martin de ToursBaguio Budget Stay: Upstairs Bed & Bath | LakwatseroBiking in Batanes: Batan Island Loop | LakwatseroCandaba Bird SanctuaryCape EngañoAbout HungduanIligan Tourism Triangle: Mimbalut, Tinago & Maria CristinaAbout Jose PanganibanCadapdapan Rice TerracesHow to Get to Casaroro FallsKiltepan: Sagada’s Best Sunrise | LakwatseroBeguet: Colorado Falls of Tuba | LakwatseroFollow the Call of the Great Outdoors: Go Out & Get More | LakwatseroSanga-Sanga ReefMasbate City: Where to Eat in the City | LakwatseroAbout Carabao IslandRain Vortex at the Jewel of ChangiPacsafe Venturesafe 65L GII Travel PackIrakoWhere to Stay in CarmenHow to Get to Tangadan FallsHow to Get to Samal IslandEverest Base Camp Trek: Into the Dream Zone