Tips for travellers

In light of the attempted attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, security screening measures were tightened at airports in Canada. Since then, some of the restrictions have been eased.
Restrictions have been eased on prohibited items in carry-on luggage of travellers heading to the U.S. ((Michael Dwyer/Associated Press))

In the wake of the attempted attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, air travel got a little more complicated. Security screening measures were tightened at airports in Canada. On Dec. 26, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority issued temporary new measures at the request of Transport Canada.

Since that time, CATSA has eased some of those restrictions. On Jan. 20, 2010, a prohibition on travellers bringing carry-on luggage on flights bound for the U.S. was dropped.

Changes to the regulations introduced on Feb. 3, 2011, allow passengers to carry tools with shafts shorter than six centimetres and scissors with blades shorter than six centimetres.

Knives of any size or length remain prohibited, and restrictions on the amount of liquids, aerosols and gels also remain.

Passengers are permitted to bring the following items onto the plane:

  • Medication or medical devices.
  • Small purses.
  • Cameras.
  • Coats.
  • Items for care of infants.
  • Laptop computers.
  • Crutches. Canes.
  • Walkers. A special needs item.
  • Musical instruments. Diplomatic or consular bags.
  • Manicure sets
  • Eyeglass screwdrivers

The Passenger Protect Program, introduced in 2007, requires of travellers the following:

  • All passengers 12 years of age or older are required to have one piece of government-issued photo ID or two pieces of government-issued ID without photo.
  • All passengers 12 years or older will be screened against a no-fly list, called the Specified Persons List. The list includes the name, date of birth and gender of individuals who may pose an immediate threat to air security.

Anyone denied boarding because they appear on the no-fly list can appeal to Transport Canada's Office of Reconsideration for an independent review.

Travellers should also expect additional searches and pat-downs when going through security checkpoints. Passengers are accordingly urged to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

"Get there early enough," Patrick Charette, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, told CBC News. "Make sure you pack properly and avoid prohibited items."

On Feb. 3, 2011, the government also announced changes to the screening process designed to reduce congestion at airports, including new equipment to separate cleared bags from suspicious ones and dedicated lanes designed for larger items such as strollers for families and people with special needs.

In addition, CATSA is expanding the use of the Trusted Traveller CATSA Screening Line for those who hold a valid NEXUS card. NEXUS is a joint Canada-U.S. program designed to quickly process pre-approved frequent travellers.

The government said the new regulations are designed to speed up processing times while putting a greater emphasis on detecting high-level threats such as explosives.

According to CATSA, prohibited items include curling irons, straight-blade razors, box cutters, oxygen cylinders, scissors with sharp blades, ski poles, ice picks, metal nail files, bats, golf clubs, pool cues and hockey sticks. Also prohibited, of course, are ammunition, arrows, axes, bullets, firearms, hammers and knives.

During some trips, flight crews may ask travellers to stay seated or refrain from using electronic devices.

Ban on liquids and gels introduced in 2006

Security was beefed up at Canadian airports after Aug. 10, 2006, when British police announced that they had foiled a plot to blow up commercial aircraft flying from Britain to the United States.

As updated on Nov. 6, 2006, the rules affect you if you're flying from any Canadian airport, including on a domestic trip. After pre-board security screening, you can carry on liquids, gels or aerosols in containers, with some restrictions.


  • Containers must be 100 ml/100 g or less.
  • They must be placed in one clear, closed and resealable plastic bag no larger than one litre.
  • Only one bag allowed per person.

The following items are still permissible on board (no bags required), and can be over 100 millilitres:

  • Baby formula and milk for passengers travelling with children who are two years old or younger.
  • Baby food, water and juice.
  • Breast milk in bottles.
  • Prescription medicine with a name that matches the passenger's ticket.
  • Insulin.
  • Contact lens solutions, eye drops.
  • Essential non-prescription medicine, such as cough syrup and decongestant spray.
  • Rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide.

Passengers must declare all liquids and gels to security screening authorities and additional screening could be required.

Most air passengers can purchase liquids, gels and aerosols from duty-free and non-duty-free retailers within designated areas of Canadian airports.

It's a good idea to put all liquids and gels in checked baggage.

If you're boarding a flight to the United States, you'll be asked to take off your shoes for screening. If you can't take off your shoes because you have a disability or are elderly, security officials will check them with detection equipment.

For up-to-date CATSA restrictions, call 1-888-294-2202 or visit its website.

Travellers with concerns can raise them during screening or contact CATSA's information line, 1-888-294-2202.

Canada's airport security agency

Travellers should expect additional searches and pat-downs when going through security checkpoints. ((Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press))
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is a Crown corporation created in April 2002 with the responsibility to screen airline passengers at Canadian airports. Air traffic security was the responsibility of the airlines until the corporation took control on Jan. 1, 2003. CATSA contracts the screening to private security companies.

The agency employs more than 4,000 security screeners and in 2004 they intercepted 738,000 prohibited items, such as scissors, pocket knives, kerosene and turpentine.

CATSA operates four training centres in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax and St. John's to teach staff how to conduct pre-boarding screenings effectively. CATSA also works with the RCMP to put undercover police officers on some flights.

The agency is partly funded by a security charge on every flight.

CATSA, Transport Canada, which sets airline security policy, and Air Canada have the following tips to get you through airport security smoothly.

  • Air Canada and Transport Canada urge passengers to check with the airline to ensure the flight is scheduled and then follow up shortly before leaving home to confirm the flight is on time.
  • Bring photo identification â€" preferably your passport â€" when travelling, regardless of destination.
  • Do not wrap or package gifts so as to ensure easier inspections by security personnel.
  • Pack lightly and travel with as little baggage as possible to reduce processing time at the airport.
  • Leave any non-essential electronics, including hair dryers and electric razors, at home.
  • Essential electronic devices such as laptop computers and cellphones must be packed in carry-on baggage.
  • Diabetics and others who may have to carry needles and other medical devices need a doctor's note stating they have the ailment and listing the medical items the person needs to carry.
  • Passengers should arrive one hour before departure time for a domestic flight and two hours before an international departure.
  • Air Canada does not recommend flying without reservations, although standby passengers will be accommodated if possible.
  • Airlines collect five pieces of information prior to the passenger boarding: the person's full legal name, gender, date of birth, nationality and travel document number.
  • Passengers should have photo ID â€" preferably their passport â€" to accompany their boarding pass at the gate.
  • CATSA will allow you carry on one lighter intended for personal use, unless you are travelling to the United States, where lighters are banned from aircraft. You can carry safety matches on your person on flights in both Canada and the U.S. You can't check matches or lighters in your luggage, and strike-anywhere matches are forbidden both in checked and carry-on luggage.
  • Passengers should limit the amount of metal they carry with them, and remove all metal objects before going through the X-ray machine at security checkpoints.
  • When flying, wear long pants, avoid flammable synthetic fibres and never wear high heels.
  • Pay close attention to the flight attendants' demonstration before takeoff. Read the safety feature cards and watch the safety video.
  • Before takeoff, familiarize yourself with the location of emergency exits. Flight attendants say it is often dark and noisy in a crash so it's a good idea to count the number of seat rows between you and the exit so you can find it in the darkness. Look down for emergency lighting to show the way.
  • In the event of an evacuation, leave everything behind. Experts who have studied crashes say passengers have died because they wasted time reaching for their carry-on luggage. Also remember that flight attendants are trained to yell at you.
  • If there's smoke, stay low but hurry. It takes only 20 seconds for seats to decompose in a fuel fire. It takes 10 more seconds for poisonous fumes to fill the cabin.