'It just doesn't work for us': WestJet on new YYC international terminal
Airline says it was forced to hire 225 employees to service new terminal because it’s so far away
Despite being involved in the planning process, WestJet says the new international terminal at the Calgary airport is forcing the airline to spend millions more a year, including hiring hundreds of new employees because the terminal is so far from existing infrastructure.
"It just doesn't work for us," spokesperson Robert Palmer told CBC News.
"It is creating some serious problems for us. It has necessitated the hiring of 225 additional WestJetters, so we have effectively had to set up two separate workforces within the two terminals, one in each. That is not the way it normally works."
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The new $2-billion terminal opened at the end of October with a host of state-of-the-art features, but Palmer says its distance from the domestic terminal is causing challenges with connecting flights.
"There is a walking distance for our connecting guests, depending on which gates they fly in and out of, that could be as much as two kilometres, could take as much as 25 minutes, depending on how fast you walk," Palmer explained.
"With an aging population, this is a concern for us."
He says the Calgary-based airline will have to cover about $15 million in costs to effectively create a second workforce.
"Normally you would be able to have the people that you have on shift at any one time work in both terminals. Because of the distances involved in this particular configuration, you can't do that."
Business columnist Deborah Yedlin says the new terminal has more challenges than just distance.
'They sit on the floor'
"The retail offering is very, very thin," Yedlin said.
"There's a Starbucks on the inside, there is no Tim Hortons. There is a common seating area and then the gates, it's sort of built on the European model so the gates are away from where you're sitting and so when you get to the gate, there's no place to sit. So as you walk to the gate you'll see a lot of people sort of sitting along the way because there's no way to actually physically sit. They sit on the floor."
She says the airport authority's new CEO is in a good position to address the challenges.
"[Bob] Sartor has a good track record," Yedlin said.
"He understands customer service. He's going to be able to talk to WestJet because WestJet is the biggest tenant in the new airport. But he's also going to be able to listen to the concerns of the flying public."
'Some teething pains'
Air Canada says it has had problems as well.
"We have experienced some teething pains such as missed connections," spokesperson Angela Mah said.
"We've worked with all stakeholders to implement some operational changes and while we've seen some improvements, we're continuing to work with the airport authority and government agencies to further refine the customer connection experience at YYC."
Marina Theron dropped her daughter off at the new terminal.
"There is a lack of water fountains and seating areas," Theron observed.
"We dropped my daughter off and then came back to Tim Hortons and that alone was a walk, but I am not complaining about it, but I can understand if people are older or have trouble walking."
Terminal endorsed by all major airlines
An airport authority spokesperson says the terminal was designed with input from the airlines.
"The design was endorsed prior to the start of construction in 2011 by all major airlines operating at YYC Calgary International Airport," Jody Moseley said in an emailed statement.
"Our airline partners are active participants in all operational and schedule planning for the domestic and international terminals."
Shuttle should help connections
Moseley says in addition to many new features, a dedicated shuttle service called YYC LINK, should make connections faster.
"The shuttle is a first in Canada, and these 20 vehicles run on a scheduled service that moves YYC passengers from end to end in six minutes."
Meanwhile, Palmer says the shuttle is a small step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
"It was added late in the planning stages in an effort to address some of these concerns," he said.
"It definitely helps the situation, but if you have got a 767 coming in from London Gatwick, and there are 260 people in it, and let's say a third of those people are connecting, it's going to take a long time to move 80 or 90 people via these little carts."
Palmer is hopeful that a new top boss at the airport authority could improve the situation.
"There is an opportunity for us to sit down with him and share some of these concerns and put our heads together to try to come up with some answers," he said.
With files from Evelyne Asselin, Robson Fletcher and Danielle Nerman