Record holiday travellers could cause delays at Canadian airports

MONTREAL — Canadian holiday travellers should brace for crowds and delays as a record number of passengers are expected to pass through the country’s largest airports and highways are filled with Christmas commuters.

With Air Canada and rival WestJet Airlines carrying 7.9 and 9.7 per cent more passengers for the first nine months of the year, the 2017 Christmas season should break travel records, said airline analyst Robert Kokonis of AirTrav Inc.

“This bodes well for the rest of the year and, I believe, into Christmas and Winter 2018 periods,” he wrote in an email.

Toronto Pearson International Airport expects that nearly 2.7 million passengers will travel through the country’s largest airport between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7, up from 1.9 million last year when there were fewer days of elevated traffic.

The busiest travel day leading into the holiday will be Thursday when more than 130,000 people are expected to use the airport.

On average, 50,000 to 60,000 passengers are expected to depart and arrive at Trudeau International Airport in Montreal and more than one million over the season.

Traffic this year is up about 10 per cent on the year as carriers have added new direct flights, particularly to international destinations.

“We will have a growth this year in passenger traffic for the holiday period and we will welcome our 18 millionth passenger,” said airport spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Hamel.

Forecast for heavy snow in the days leading up to Christmas could cause some delays but Montreal Trudeau is used to facing Quebec winters, she said.

“Our snow clearing teams are active to ensure that when there is more difficult weather, these impacts are limited for passengers.”

Vancouver and Calgary airports are forecasting the 2017 will be another record season.

“We anticipate our busiest days to be when school gets out and the week after Christmas,” said airport spokeswoman Andrea Pham.

Canadian Airports Council president Daniel-Robert Gooch said he expects a strong end to a booming year since airport traffic is outpacing economic growth.

“It’s a very good news story for the air transport business and local economies and tourism,” he said in an interview.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines said they are both expecting higher passenger volumes during the peak travel period but refused to provide forecasts. WestJet said it expects to beat the record 74,000 passengers it carried one day before Christmas last year.

The airlines offered advice such as checking in online or through an app, paying for any baggage fees in advance, verifying flight status for any delays, arriving early at the airport and carrying the appropriate identification.

Roads will also be busy this holiday as extra vehicles and snow cause delays while longer wait times are expected to cross the U.S. border.

“The best advice is to simply realize that things are going to be moving more slowly and they’re going to be busier than they usually are and so leave extra time,” said CAA spokesman Ian Jack.

Travelling through the United States could also take more time since the American Automobile Association expects a record 107.3 million holiday road and air travellers.

The Canadian agency overseeing airport screening said it will add more workers to help meet heightened demand over the holiday, especially for peak travel days.

“When it’s really busy, passengers should be there ahead of time because the lineups can be longer,” said Mathieu Larocque, spokesman for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

He said travellers can shorten security inspections by ensuring they know what can be carried on board the plane, especially in carry-on luggage.

Passengers can ask questions of CATSA on Twitter or Facebook and send pictures of items to avoid surprises at the airport.

Gifts should remain unwrapped for easier inspection if required. Some airports offer post-security wrapping services.

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