Holiday travel: Friday before Christmas busy, but smooth

The last Friday before Christmas is usually one of the busiest, most chaotic days of the year for anyone taking flights. All that holiday travel, though, has not yet created a frenzy of longer lineups and delays as of Friday afternoon. Airports are urging passengers to plan ahead and arrive early.

Arrive early and give yourself plenty of extra time, airports urge

Today, the last Friday before Christmas, is expected to be one of the busiest days for air travel across North America. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The last Friday before Christmas is usually one of the busiest, most chaotic days of the year for anyone taking flights. 

All that holiday travel, though, has not yet created a frenzy of longer lineups and delays as of Friday afternoon. 

In a phone conversation with CBC News, a Greater Toronto Airports Authority representative said things are "still running smoothly," as of noon ET, and the airport authority doesn't expect that to change as the day progresses.

"It was an easier morning than a lot of people were expecting it to be," said Radio-Canada's Sebastien St. Francois from Toronto's Pearson International Airport earlier in the day.

"Clearly, this morning, the feeling was that there was no real rush. People were coming in quite slowly, to be honest. No problems whatsoever — or almost — at check-in."

Canada's biggest airport normally handles about 100,000 passengers per day.

"Today, they are expecting a spike of 20 per cent — 121,000 people are expected to go through these gates," said Radio-Canada's Sebastien St. Francois.

St. Francois reported that about two million people will go through the Greater Toronto Area airport in the three-week period surrounding Christmas.

The next three busiest airports in Canada are:

  • Vancouver International.
  • Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International.
  • Calgary International. 

"We'll see a lot of travellers going through our checkpoints right across the country from Vancouver to Halifax. It's going to be a busy day for sure," said Mathieu Larocque, a spokesman for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The Vancouver Airport Authority said about 60,000 passengers travel through the airport per day during the holiday season, but noted it was difficult to provide a normal daily average as the number fluctuates throughout the year.

"On one of our busier days like today, with school getting out for the holidays, we are expecting to see over 60,000 passengers but [it is] difficult to know the exact number at this point," spokeswoman Tess Messmer wrote in an email to CBC News. 

Messmer said the Vancouver airport is providing entertainment and other activities to decrease stress and "help put people in a festive mood," in addition to having volunteers provide information for passengers.

Like in Toronto, things seem to be fine for air travellers on the West Coast.

"Everything is looking good and going smoothly," Messmer said in the early afternoon.

Check your wrapped gifts

Airports recommend that passengers plan ahead and arrive early, ensure they know their check-in options and flight departure times, and know baggage allowance rules, to prevent delays.

For domestic flights, WestJet and Air Canada earlier this year implemented fees for the first checked baggage item, and passengers are reminded to be aware of restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols when packing carry-on bags.

Montreal-Trudeau airport says wrapped gifts should be packed in checked baggage. Otherwise, gifts placed in carry-on luggage should be unwrapped, according to a notice on its website.

The reason for that, Larocque explained, is because if screening agents detect what look like dangerous objects inside a gift, they'll need to unwrap them and check. 

"It will take time, it will jam the line, so we ask that passengers wait [until] their destinations," said Larocque, adding that some airports do offer gift-wrapping after the security checkpoints. Vancouver airport is one.

For travellers with pets, WestJet and Air Canada have banned large pets during this holiday travel time, due to capacity and weight restrictions.

With files from The Canadian Press

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