You may want to reconsider your summer travel plans if they involve flying out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. 

Seriously; it may be more efficient to take a bus or train. 

While the lack of staffing, disorganization, and chaos that has plagued the airport since the summer weather rolled in is well-documented, one can’t truly appreciate the extent of the madness until they experience it for themselves. 

It recently took me 30 hours just to get to New York City -- 30 hours! (yes, I know; Porter Airlines is the better option, but the flight was booked on Delta points). 

It all started before the crack of dawn on Canada Day when I called my ridiculously surging Uber (that’s a whole other issue) to take me to the airport in what -- during any other time at any other airport -- would have been enough time to clear security and customs, have a nice breakfast, and a pre-flight Bloody Caesar. We’re talking three hours. 

Immediately upon entry, I could tell I was in for a nightmare experience. Everything about airports -- the crowds, the lines, and the waiting -- triggers my anxiety.

But the fresh hell that was Terminal 3 at 3:50am on July 1 was next level on all three fronts. I checked into my flight via a kiosk and only had a carry-on; I’d seen enough lost luggage horror stories on social media as of late to know to pack light. So, all I had to do next was make my way to the start of the security line. The problem was, there was a massive mob of people probably about 50 metres deep in my way. Some were in search of check-in lines, some were looking to drop their suitcases, and others -- like myself -- were trying to make it to the entry of the security area.

Whatever the agenda, the common denominator was that people were mad. They were irritated. And nobody had any patience left. For many, this was their second or third (even fourth) attempt to fly out of the airport. Adding to the chaos that was this impatient mob of people was the fact that airport staff was virtually illusive. And in the absence of anyone to keep the order or ask questions, it became a sort of survival of the fittest (or most aggressive): it was a lethal combination of people budding the line, pushing, and yelling. Kids weren’t the only ones throwing tantrums. 

After about an hour, I finally made it to the entry for the security line, which took about another 50 minutes. At this point, I was still hopeful that I would catch my 6:45am flight. But no sooner had I collected my belongings and put my shoes back on post-security, my hope was dashed when I saw the absolutely insane line for customs. 

In the past, there used to be a degree of grace offered to travellers who were at risk of missing flights; they’d be pulled out of line or brought closer to the front. Not that day. The problem was that everyone was in the same situation. I’d guess at least 60%-70% of all people in that line were at risk of missing their flight -- my story wasn't unique.

But there was nobody to talk to and nothing that could be done. Aside from wait in the tediously slow -- and now extremely tense -- line (if you needed an example that energy and anxiety was contagious, you could find it here). 

Finally, a personnel appeared on the sidelines. He informed everyone that there was a good chance that some of the flights would be held by a few minutes to account for the fact that so many passengers were still in line. My flight was indeed held back about half an hour. 

But I still missed the boarding by about a minute. 

Here’s the thing: I could have maybe made it, had the overly inquisitive customs agent not spent so much time inappropriately quizzing me about my personal life (had I not been in such a mad rush; I would have called him out for this). 

Anyway, there was no amount of charming, begging, or pleading that was going to get me on this airplane when I got to the gate. “And you won’t get on another; Delta flights are booked for the day,” said a Delta worker bluntly. She handed me a card with Delta’s customer service department’s information, nonetheless. Naturally, I couldn’t get through. But a fellow passenger who’d missed his flight had. He confirmed that all flights were full and said he was going to take a bus to New York. (Having done so in university once or twice, this option was completely out of the cards for me). 

I had no choice but to leave. But getting out of the gate area wasn’t so simple. In fact, I was trapped. After being informed that I needed an airport personnel to escort me back though customs, I spent half an hour walking around aimlessly trying to find someone to do so. In my journey, I encountered people crying and on the verge of meltdowns about missing everything from dying parents to weddings. Finding anyone to help was harder to come by. 

I took a train back in to the city. Long story short, I pulled a few strings and managed to get on a 5:15 p.m. Delta flight to New York. So, I found myself heading back to the airport for a second time that day a few hours later. This time, I gave myself four hours (which seems ridiculous, given that the flight is just over an hour long). 

Upon entry, the early-afternoon airport experience was night and day. The crowds of people were gone. Getting through customs and security was a total breeze, and I made it to the gates with hours to spare. At the time, however, I was blissfully unaware of how many hours I would soon waste. 

As I sat at a bar in front of my laptop, a series of texts would inform me over the next two hours that my flight was delayed. Finally, I got a notification that it was cancelled “due to weather.” I immediately called my friend in New York, who was stumped by the news, as it was a clear and pleasant evening. Furthermore, no fewer than four or five other flights had successfully flown to New York City in or around our boarding time. 

Still, the flight was cancelled and I needed to be escorted out again (this part was admittedly easier the second time around). When I questioned the “weather” excuse I was told the issue was not, in fact, weather: apparently, there weren’t enough ground crew. But when it’s weather-related, the airline isn’t obligated to compensate you. 

Furious and frustrated, I found myself in the midst of dozens of customers who felt the same way at the Delta counter. When I explained that we were entitled to compensation, I was told that all the local hotels were booked up with passengers who were essentially in the same situation. 

I ended up leaving with airport limo vouchers to get into the city and back for my third attempt at a flight -- this one a United Airlines flight the kind folks at Delta bought for me (if you don’t ask, you don’t get) -- the next morning. 

Fast forward to 3:30 a.m. the following day. The check-in area is just as disastrous as it was the previous morning. Instead of a mob of people, however, there were two separate lines that must have been 200 metres long -- one for those looking to get to the start of the security and one for those who needed to check in or drop bags. The only way you’d know if you were in the right one was by trusting that a fellow passenger knew what they were doing. 

So, the lineup just to get to the start of security was worse than the day before. With that said, getting through security and customs was significantly quicker. The biggest takeaway in the lead-up to arriving at my gate for flight number three was that pretty much every single person in line was not attempting to fly for the first time. The horror stories were shocking. 

“It’s a beautiful country, but they won’t let you out,” joked one man who managed to maintain his spirits. 

Needless to say, I made it to the gate with about 45 minutes to spare before boarding. But it wasn’t long before I noticed the nervous looks of airline staff as our boarding time came and passed. Once customers -- some of whom had been at the airport for days -- started asking questions, one staff member came on the speaker and said we would have to wait because a flight attendant was held up in U.S. customs. Time went on. The suitcases were removed from the plane “just in case anyone needs to get something from their bag.”

One decidedly irate woman started yelling, demanding answers after one boarding delay turned into another. We were once again told that the flight attendant was held up in customs and they were trying to find another to call to come to the airport. This song and dance went on for each update. The passengers weren’t having it. All hell eventually broke loose once the workers got caught in lies and contradictions. Security was called. So were the police.

At this point it looked like the flight was going to be cancelled, especially after the pilot came out to reprimand the understandably irritated crowd for their behaviour. 

But then, like an angel from the sky, a flight attendant hurried through the crowd. It may have taken nearly four hours, but they had found a replacement. She was met with a round of applause by relieved passengers who had been through the ringer and back and were finally bound for New York by about 10:15 a.m. (the flight was supposed to take off at 6:52 a.m.). 

By the time I finally collapsed in my seat I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. While it may sound like a whirlwind (and trust me; it was), my story is not new. Some people had it even worse: suitcases lost for weeks, hotel costs paid out of pockets, missed connections, and back-to-back-to-back cancelled flights. Later that weekend, one woman’s dog was even lost in its crate in a pile of luggage for 21 hours(!).

Even if you’re flying first class and have Nexus, nobody is immune to the commercial air travel drama at Pearson. Case in point: Wimbledon star Novak Djokovic and his girlfriend Costeen Hatzi were just stuck at the airport amid flight delays and lost luggage while trying to make their way to Bahamas and resorted to sleeping on the floor.

You could do all the right things and be at the airport five hours early. But your flight could still easily get delayed or cancelled due to what ultimately comes down to staffing issues (even if they tell you otherwise). So, you may want to give yourself a few days buffer before a big event like a wedding just to ensure you make it.

Earlier this week, Pearson released an infographic designed to simplify the airport navigation process. While this does nothing to alleviate the staffing issue, at least it makes obtaining answers a little easier in the absence of staff to ask for help. Today, they also announced live music today and tomorrow in Terminals 1 and, there's that.

Yet, I have a feeling this isn't the last we'll see of the Pearson drama, judging from the experiences of friends just this week.

For those who are set to fly out of Canada’s busiest this summer, just make sure to pack your patience -- you’ll definitely need it.