Canada’s transport minister is dismissing claims that the federal government asked airlines to reduce their schedules and cancel flights to ease recent travel delays.
In a statement to Nation World News on Tuesday, Minister Omar Alghabra’s office acknowledged the current situation at Canadian airports is “frustrating” and that the federal government is working on ways to help resolve it. However, he said that doesn’t include a direct callout to airlines to cut back services.
“We are working very closely with [Canadian Air Transport Security Authority] to ensure staffing issues are being dealt with as quickly as possible. That being said, we can confirm that our Government has never asked, and will not be asking, airlines to cut back on their flight schedules,” the statement reads.
The response follows a tweet by Duncan Deea former chief operating officer at Air Canada, that states he was informed that airlines had been asked to reduce their schedules to “assist with the fed gov-created mess at the airport.”
He goes on to argue that Ottawa has “completely lost the plot.” As countries around the world look to reopen travel and tourism, he said Canada is “looking to shut it down.”
In recent weeks, multiple airports have reported extremely long lines at airport security and border screening checkpoints, while passengers say they are being forced to wait for hours — and sometimes missing their flights.
WestJet told Nation World News on Tuesday that it remains “extremely concerned” with the state of services provided by government agencies at air borders and security screening points.
“Our schedules are built months in advance to best serve our guests and stimulate the recovery of our nation. We would reject any request to reduce flights based on lack of government resourcing,” a statement reads.
“This is an urgent issue that requires immediate improvement and we remain focused on resolving the matter directly with the federal government, while working collaboratively with our airport partners.”
Alghabra told reporters last week that delays may also be caused by travelers getting re-accustomed to airport processes after being grounded for two years due to the pandemic.
“Taking out the laptops, taking out the fluids — all that adds 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there,” he said.
The minister added that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) used to rely on a six-month timeframe as it relates to labor allocation and volume predictions, which has been condensed to 72 to 48 hours.
CATSA CEO Mike Saunders issued a statement on May 2 noting that the corporation is feeling the impact of pent-up demand for air travel, compounded by two years of layoffs.
“While the corporation’s third-party security contractors – who are responsible for providing the screening officer workforce – have been working to increase staffing levels, they are not immune to the recruitment challenges experienced by the broader commercial aviation industry and, indeed, many industries across Canada at this time,” the statement reads.
At the beginning of the pandemic, CATSA had nearly 7,400 screening officers stationed across the country. As of Tuesday, they have approximately 6,500 screening officers, but are targeting to hire around 1,000 more this year.
The Conservative Party of Canada is meanwhile calling on the federal government to remove COVID-19 mandates on domestic travel, among other priorities, to alleviate airport delays.
With files from Nation World News’ Brooklyn Neustaeter and Kevin Gallagher.