International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up, people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn't physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.
The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.
The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council's interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren't travelling, but now it's become a serious problem.
"We're seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel," she said.
The situation is particularly bad at Canada's largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.
Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it's over an hour, Pasher said.
Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.
"Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can't coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system," Pasher said.
The health and transportation ministers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.
Still, the requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.
"We're effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven't shared any of that with the Canadian public,'' she said.
The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.
"It tells you to go elsewhere, that we're not open for business,'' she said.