Rude officers, seized items and touchy pat downs top CATSA complaints list

Out of hundreds of complaints filed against Canada's airport security officers last year the most common irritants were against "power pushing” officers with a "bastardized approach to customer service."

Most common gripes are with the attitude and professionalism of airport security officers

CATSA employees perform security checks of passengers and their carry on at Vancouver International Airport. According to the agency's annual report, more than 61.8 million passengers and airport staff were screened in 2016-17. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Sometimes it doesn't take much to make air travellers go bananas.

Last year, a passenger was so peeved after their container of mashed bananas was seized by airport security they fired off an email to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) conflating the incident with national identity.

"Bananas are allowed and it is unfair and unCanadian," they wrote.

It's just one of the hundreds of complaints emailed or phoned into the Crown corporation last year. Copies of the 2017 complaints were obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The most common gripe from a population stereotyped for its politeness were complaints with officers' perceived attitudes.

The majority of people who wrote in were upset with "power pushing" CATSA officers with a "bastardized approach to customer service" and pleaded for empathy.

"The unacceptable behaviour of your security personnel is a serious blemish on Canada's international reputation," wrote one complainant.

"I am travelling with two live animals and the agent shook and jostled the carrier like a basketball with the cat in the carrier," another claimed. "Please teach [your] agents a little compassion."

Others documented more serious allegations, including racial profiling, inappropriate pat downs and sexist comments.

One passenger alleges an officer used the N-word while talking to a co-worker about their Christmas party.

One passenger complained this Christian Louboutin wallet was deemed a potential weapon and seized during airport security. (Christian Louboutin)

Another was particularly upset when an officer commented on her clothing choice.

"I was told by the agent that I should wear a sports bra my next trip so that I didn't have to hold up the line for security for extra screening as I was unable to pass the metal detector due to the underwire in my bra," she wrote.

"I fly routinely and my choice of undergarments is no one's business but mine."

Another complainant was hurt when the attendant criticized their tattoos.

"What about when you're 70? It's going to look ugly," she allegedly told the passenger while scanning his body.

In a jam over jam

Some passengers were baffled their knives and scissors and bottles of alcohol were intercepted. (Canada has had some type of restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols since 2006)

"Congrats, you just made my Mom cry," wrote one complainant after their mother's Disney snow globe was seized.

"You guys were able to totally destroy what has been so far the time of her life here in Canada. You should be very proud."

One family wrote in asking for their kirpan, a ceremonial dagger important to the Sikh  faith, be replaced. In late 2017 Transport Canada updated its prohibited items list to allow for blades of six centimetres or less on all domestic and international flights, except to the U.S. 

And two passengers took issue with an officer confiscating their jam (strawberry and blueberry, respectively) arguing it shouldn't fall within the liquid, aerosol or gel limitations.

"What a disregard towards food wastage in Canada — shame," wrote the blueberry jam enthusiast.

One person was very upset when their strawberry jam was seized. (Access to information)

Skimming through the complaints, it becomes clear the curt and sometimes rude behaviour is a two-way street.

One passenger complained after their carry-on bag was searched for suspicious item, which they claim turned out to be a book.

Turning towards the guard, they responded: "I'm sure you don't know much about those."

The complaints represent just a small fraction of the overall number of passengers CATSA deals with every year. The agency said it dealt with more than 66 million passengers in the 2017-2018 year.

"All complaints are taken seriously and are investigated by our client satisfaction team, wrote Suzanne Perseo in an email to CBC.

  "As our front-line representatives, screening officers are tasked with enforcing regulations and can sometimes be perceived as rude or inflexible."

CATSA says one-third of all complaints are deemed substantiated.

  If a complaint is substantiated, CATSA may implement changes to processes and procedures. 


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