Calgary International Airport braces for muted holiday travel season amid coronavirus pandemic

CALGARY — The week leading up to Christmas is considered the busiest time of year for Canada’s airline industry, but the Calgary International Airport is adjusting to the new normal of significantly lower passenger volumes.

Numbers are down about 80 per cent compared to last year as the airport expects about 10,000 passengers collectively arriving and departing each day from Dec. 18 to Dec. 24. compared to the usual 50,000.

YYC experienced a record year in 2019 with 18 million guests coming through the airport – a far cry from the projected 5.8 million guests forecasted by year’s end for 2020.

While there may be fewer passengers in the terminals, there’s greater emphasis on traveller safety.

“We have our #FlyHealthyYYC program in place with enhanced cleaning, hand sanitizer, physical distance markings and the mask requirement,” sais Reid Fiest, The Calgary Airport Authority’s manager of external communications and media relations.

“We’re also working with our airline partners and using technology where possible to create entirely contactless experiences such as contactless bag tagging where you don’t have to touch screens, just scan your boarding pass, the tags will print out and you can drop them off at the self bag drop.”

Fiest adds that even with fewer people travelling, passengers should still expect to encounter some lines and should prepare to give themselves plenty of time to be processed through security. Construction on Airport Trail has caused some traffic delays for travellers and drivers have been advised to slow down to watch out for workers.

Airport officials are pleased with the results of the International Border Testing Pilot Program, created in partnership with the Government of Alberta, for travellers arriving at the airport directly from international locations.

As of Dec. 10, the program has administered 14,382 tests of people arriving in Alberta at the airport or the Coutts land border crossing with only 1.14 per cent of travellers testing positive for COVID-19.

Lisa White, director of the Central Alberta District for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), says border officers have played a huge role in advising travellers of all quarantine mandates upon arrival.

“We’re also screening officers under the Quarantine Act so a big part of our job is also to ensure that symptomatic people are identified and isolated and sent to certain quarantine facilities and referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada as well,” White said.

“We watch for signs and symptoms, ask initial screening questions, and all of those additional measures in place have been phenomenal where prior to the pandemic there were some initial questions to travellers, but now there’s more layers of security to ensure we’re keeping Canadians safe.”

Travel Restrictions 

The Canada Border Service Agency is reminding travellers to follow all travel restrictions and guidelines before entering the country including:

Not travelling when sick

  • Quarantining for 14 days upon arrival if you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms
  • Self-isolating for 14 days if you do have COVID-19 symptoms
  • Following all provincial and territorial public health requirements

According to COVID-19 restrictions outlined by the Government of Alberta, non-essential travel is not recommended. A ban on all indoor and outdoor social gatherings additionally means that all out-of-town visitors who do not have a household in Alberta must not stay in other people’s homes while these restrictions are in place.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of Health, is urging everyone to follow these rules after the province reported a record 30 new deaths linked to COVID-19 on Thursday.

“This is a heartbreaking figure,” Hinshaw said.

“If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chain of transmissions, this is it.”

What travellers can and cannot bring

The CBSA maintains its list of restricted items not permitted for passengers to take with them on flights, which include the typical firearms, explosives, ammunition along with food, plant and animal-related products.

All items must be declared and have the proper permits to be allowed within the Canadian border, including cannabis.

Despite the fact that cannabis is legal and regulated in Canada, it remains illegal to transport in any form including THC oils and cannabidiol.

Passengers are advised not to wrap Christmas gifts before travelling as border officers may need to search certain packages. The CBSA reminds travellers to ensure they have proper documentation — passports, worker or student permits —ready to present to border service officers and to know travel requirements ahead of time.

Terminal Changes

As the airport adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff have made some terminal changes to give passengers as much space as possible to physically distance from one another.

One of the main changes includes the WestJet domestic check-in kiosks and desks being permanently moved back to their original home between doors one and four at the northern end of the departures level.

“It’s a brand-new, light and spacious check-in area with all new technology when it comes to the baggage system, kiosks, and the big acceptance unit so if you’re flying with WestJet you’ll go through those doors,” said Fiest.

The airport has moved some domestic flights to its international terminal in Concourse D. Domestic passengers will still have to go through security through the domestic checkpoints, but should double check their tickets and give themselves extra time as their flight may be departing from the traditionally international terminal area.

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