Ottawa airport disappointed with federal security snub

The Ottawa International Airport says it’s disappointed to be left out of a new federal program to streamline airport security at six major hubs.

Program will be rolled out at 6 major Canadian airports — but not YOW

A group of passengers waits in line at the Ottawa International Airport.
The new federal program, which seeks to streamline airport security, is a response to backlogs that disrupted air travel last year. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The Ottawa International Airport says it's disappointed to be left out of a new federal program to streamline airport security at six other Canadian hubs.

Beginning June 21, eligible airline passengers will be able to keep their laptops, electronics and liquid in their carry-on bags and will be permitted to clear airport security without having to remove their shoes, belts and jackets.

Groups that will qualify include NEXUS and Global Entry members, active members of the Canadian and U.S. military, aircrew and airport staff and Canadian police.

The security screening changes will affect six international airports: Toronto-Pearson, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal-Trudeau.

Ottawa's airport authority said Wednesday it was "seeking information regarding the inclusion criteria" to qualify for the program and believes all similar airports should offer the new service to reduce confusion, according to spokesperson Éva Pigeon-Séguin.

"For Canada's capital airport to offer a lesser customer experience to travellers who are considered trusted NEXUS members makes no sense," Pigeon-Séguin said in a French email to Radio-Canada.

"We are disappointed to have been excluded from the list."

An Air Canada plane near an airport terminal.
The Ottawa International Airport, seen here in 2019, reported about 90 per cent of passengers in 2022 were travelling inside Canada. That share was about 70 per cent as of the end of April 2023. (CBC)

Based on traveller volume

In a Thursday email, a Transport Canada spokesperson said the six airports where chosen because they're the busiest in the country, based on the volume of travellers.

Other airports may join the program in the future, Transport Canada said.

In the meantime, verified travellers will be able to skip to the front of the line at 14 airports, including in Ottawa.

Ottawa International Airport data shows just under three million passengers arrived or departed there in 2022, down from about 5,100,000 in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe slowdown of travel.

The six airports included in the program each reported having more passengers last year, as did the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the program Tuesday.

"I know that the last year has been really tough on travellers," Alghabra said. "I know a lot of people have now lost confidence … [and] are being skeptical about the abilities of the institutions to service them."

A man in a suit speaks at a podium.
At a Tuesday news conference, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he knows many people have lost confidence in Canada's transportation institutions. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Separate rules may confuse travellers

John Dunn, founder and president of the tourism and hotel industry consulting firm FLOOR13, said he finds it a "bit surprising" to see Ottawa's airport excluded from the list.

Dunn said he believes implementing a single rule across all airports would be a better approach.

"It would just make more sense to have one rule across all of Canada," he said. "Sometimes we pick and choose, and it confuses the traveller."

Dunn added the priority should be to attract international travellers who tend to spend far more money during their visit than domestic travellers.

"We've got to make it as simple as possible for them to come in and visit our beautiful country."

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