NEWS

How does Pearson airport deal with the busy holiday travel season?

12/24/2014 01:54 EST | Updated 02/23/2015 05:59 EST
Last winter, a nearly record-breaking deep freeze began over the holiday season and persisted into January. The ice storm that hit the GTA in the days before Christmas knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes was immediately followed by temperatures that plunged below -20 C. 

The ice storm, extreme cold and huge number of holiday travellers proved disastrous at Pearson airport. Canada's busiest air hub shut down entirely. Hundreds of flights were  delayed or cancelled, passengers were stranded and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority eventually publicly apologized for the fiasco. 

The airport has since updated its extreme weather protocol and taken steps to ease the burden of holiday travel for busy families.

When you're the one stuck in a security line, stale airport restaurant or, perhaps worst of all, on the tarmac, it's difficult to feel sympathy for the people tasked with getting you to where you need to go efficiently and safety. It is, undoubtedly, an incredible logistical feat. 

This holiday season, Pearson will see about two million people pass through. The busiest travel day of the season, Dec. 19, brought approximately 121,000 passengers. 

"There is always extra pressure, especially when you're busy and it's the holiday season. People are trying to get to where they're going," said Eddie Daza, an apron officer at Pearson.

Pearson personnel gave CBC Toronto a behind-the-scenes look at how they deal manage the holiday travel season.

20 km of luggage conveyors

Daza co-ordinates about 600 arrival and departure flights every day during this time. He says over the holidays, many airlines employ the biggest aircraft in their fleets to accommodate the extra passenger demand and schedule an increased number of flights. 

The bump in numbers means about 110,000 pieces of luggage will make their way around the airport's 20 kilometres of conveyors each day. On domestic flights in Terminal 1, a suitcase will ride 4.6 kilometres, from check-in to the baggage room, in less than five minutes. 

Luggage handlers offered up this tip to ensure your bag is waiting for you when you land: items that some people use to mark their luggage, such as a colourful rainbow ribbon, can actually prevent bar code readers from guiding your bag to the right flight. 

In terms of dealing with bad weather, Pearson has beefed up the number of machines and operators ready to help clear runways if it snows or planes need to be deiced. Clearing runways should take about 15 minutes, according to manager apron Stephan Rouleau. 

"All the equipment is ready to go and in order. Staffing levels — they're ready to go. Because this time of year the snow falls and all that kind of stuff, you just never know," he told CBC. 

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