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Leading Edge: Taking it for granted

Stripping down to the bare essentials.


February 24, 2011
By Stacy Bradshaw


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Stripping down to the bare essentials.

It’s how many are tempted to deal with heightened security measures at Canadian airports, and while I won’t go as far as our cheeky cover model and show up in skivvies, the thought has crossed my mind. Pat-downs, body scanners, excessive lineups . . . it’s more than enough to test your patience and make you consider drastic measures, however ridiculous they may seem.

But when you stop and think about the big picture, it begs the question: What price do you put on your own security, your own safety? And how much inconvenience will you put up with? Do you feel safe and secure at Canadian airports?

Like many commercial travellers, I have had the pleasure of spending plenty of “quality” time in airports from coast to coast. I have braved lines longer than the eye can see on numerous occasions (at 4 a.m., no less), dealt with dour customer service agents, and smiled warmly at security agents asking insipid questions about seemingly trivial matters. I’ve had shoes removed, buckles buzzed, my body patted. I’ve been scolded for not taking my laptop out of my briefcase, and have closely scrutinized decisions by security agents and wondered why things are done the way they are. I have even gone so far as to bring questionable articles in my briefcase to “test” the system – sharpened pencils or small penknives given to me as gifts at trade shows. Call it editorial curiosity. Guess what? They’re always scrutinized and confiscated.

Through all of these “hassles,” what impresses me most is that the final objective is always met – flights are always safe and I feel secure in every airport environment I’ve been in. Even more impressive? I have yet to witness an outrageous incident at a security checkpoint that I would deem a heinous breech of a travellers’ civil rights – or worse, encounter a dangerous, life-threatening situation. It’s a significant point, especially when you consider that more than 200 million passengers moved through Canada’s top 50 airports last year – not to mention those picking up/dropping off loved ones or congregating in the airport waiting areas. Serious issues are rare.

However, as Wings correspondent Brian Dunn aptly points out in the first part of our two-part series on airport security in Canada (see The Bottom Line, pg. 20), things are not perfect. There have been high-profile examples of questionable body searches and over-the-top security measures being imposed on Canadian passengers since new measures were implemented in late 2009. Some of these have targeted the elderly, children and frequent flyers – the wrong mix, says former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall. He aptly observes that North American governments must identify those that are a security threat in the first place, and not concentrate efforts on low-risk passengers.

It’s a critical point, which seems to be slowly resonating with the federal government. In early February, Chuck Strahl, minister of transport, and Rob Merrifield, minister of state (transport), announced new screening measures at Canadian airports that deal with some of Crandall’s concerns.

The government’s objectives will include new equipment and lane configurations meant to enhance the flow of passengers and bags at security screening checkpoints. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will be installing equipment that will automatically separate suspicious bags from cleared bags, reducing congestion. In addition, CATSA is expanding the use of the Trusted Traveller CATSA Screening Line for pre-approved travellers who hold a valid Nexus card.

There will also be new dedicated lanes for families and those who have special needs, with equipment specifically designed for bigger items like strollers. And great news for those who sew – or anyone else who feels the need to bring small scissors in their carry-ons. These items and tools, no longer than six centimetres (excluding the handle), are now permitted.

Time will tell if the new security measures – and enhancements down the road – will speed up the airport screening process. No doubt, in our instant world of “I don’t have time for this,” there will be critics of the system. No matter. I will continue to plan ahead before trudging off to the airport and accept (and marvel at) the complexity of the process. Is it a pain sometimes? Yes. But if the payoff is arriving safe and sound at my next destination, I can put up with a little bit of inconvenience. Perhaps you can, too.


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