By Amanda Brown
Following the abatement of travel restrictions, 100 million travellers traversed Canada’s airports in 2022, exacerbating unprecedented levels of flight disruption and lengthy line-ups that frustrated passengers across the nation.
On July 28, Statistics Canada (StatCan) data revealed that in 2023, air passenger numbers climbed to a total of 117.3 million—approximately two-and-a-half times the number of travellers in 2022.
Canada scrapped its pandemic-related travel restrictions completely in October 2022 after easing travel rules in March of the same year.
Once travel restrictions were lifted, Canadians previously confined by lockdowns for two years were eager to fly again. StatCan said the steep uptick in travellers was not anticipated.
“The unexpected sharp increase in passenger volume during the busy summer travel season left some major airports grappling with challenges largely stemming from staffing-related problems,” StatCan said.
Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary—Canada’s four largest airports—all reported twice as many passengers as in 2021 with a significant amount of passenger frustration evident.
“Over the summer period last year, there was a mountain of complaints from travellers about flight delays, cancellations, long airport queues, and lost luggage,” the report said.
Compared to 2021, traffic between Canada and the United States increased by more than four times (16.1 million more passengers) and overseas traffic rose by three and a half times (18.0 million more passengers), StatCan said.
During the busy 2022 winter holiday season, air travel operations were significantly affected by a harsh storm occurring over Christmas. It brought heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures, and strong winds, resulting in widespread disruptions to travel, power outages, and damage to infrastructure.
Some regions experienced record-breaking snowfall that led to Canadian passengers being stranded in warmer destinations, forced to sleep on airport floors, and shuttled between hotels.
In Canada in 2023, 71.4 million passengers flew domestically—a double-digit increase from the previous year.
Flight delays continue to hamper Canada’s major airlines, Air Canada and WestJet, despite the travel industry having introduced a series of measures meant to alleviate challenges during the busy summer period—among them, schedule adjustments, increased staff numbers, and new technologies.
“We’ve built our Canadian summer schedule to synchronize with our recently announced summer international schedule, facilitating connectivity through our hubs for our customers, whether they’re traveling within Canada, across the border to the US, or to our many destinations worldwide,” Air Canada said in a 2022 news release.
Despite the company’s changes, it cancelled nearly 2,000 flights over the Canada Day long weekend.
Aviation data firm Cirium’s statistics revealed in June that Air Canada’s punctuality rate for flights was only 52.5 percent—ninth in the rankings—trailing behind WestJet with 66.8 percent of its flights arriving on time, ranking sixth overall.
In June, Bill C-52 was presented in the House of Commons, aimed at establishing new regulations that mandate airports and other air travel operators to develop service standards and publicly disclose data for comparison against newly set air passenger rights benchmarks.
Earlier in July, Omar Alghabra, the former transport minister, announced his resignation from cabinet in anticipation of a major shuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Mr. Alghabra acknowledged that the air travel sector has witnessed “significant improvement,” but emphasized that further efforts are required to address remaining challenges.