Travellers complain about wait times at Yellowknife airport, in Northern Canada

The lineup at Yellowknife airport security check on Dec. 29, 2017. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
Complaints about long security wait times at the newly renovated Yellowknife Airport made their way to the Northwest Territories legislature Wednesday.

For months, residents and tourists in the Arctic territory’s capital city have complained in public social media groups about what some call “ridiculous” wait times.

On Wednesday, Cory Vanthuyne, MLA for Yellowknife North, questioned why there is still a bottleneck at security even after the territory spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade the area.

In 2016, the territorial government introduced a new airport improvement fee and tripled the fees paid by airlines that use the airport. The government said the $10 million in fees generated each year will be used to make the airport more attractive to travellers.

“Now after millions of dollars collected in user fees and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on renovations to the security screening area, the key complaint of constituents is that security line wait times are unreasonably long,” Vanthuyne said in the legislature.

“Why? Because there’s still only one security line at the airport.”

Security run by crown corporation

But Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann told MLAs the congestion is out of his control. He said that screening at the airport is controlled by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), a federal crown corporation. CASTA leases the airport screening space from the territory.

Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann said long wait times are in part a result of more planes landing and more tourists visiting. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Schumann said the system at the airport is part of the new CATSA Plus program. According to CATSA’s website, a highlight of the new program are the “parallel divest systems,” which allow more than one passenger to put carry-on belongings in a bin at a time. The CATSA Plus system also provides a larger space at the end of the screening area for passengers to repack their belongings.

Schumann told MLAs Wednesday that after the renovation, wait times at security are down by 30 per cent.

He said wait times are still long, in part, because more planes are landing and more tourists visiting.

The arrivals departure board for Yellowknife Airport on December 29, 2017. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

“You know we’re the victim of our own success again. Landings are up 15 per cent. Traffic by passengers is up by four per cent. We put in these new systems trying to accommodate everyone as best we can,” Schumann said.

“We’re so used to being able to go to the airport and jump on a plane 10 minutes before it goes, but the reality is, at the Yellowknife airport, you’ve got to start looking to go out there 90 minutes to 60 minutes prior to departing.”

Schumann also said the territorial government has used money from the airport improvement fund to create new signs in different languages, including Japanese, to help tourists find their way at the airport.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Residents concerned by Northern Canadian airline merger, CBC News

Finland: Air traffic controllers’ lockout set for ski holidays in eastern, northern Finland, Yle News

Norway: Norway’s Tromso airport still the busiest in northern Scandinavia, stats show, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: No more direct flights between northwest Russia’s two largest cities, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Dock dispute brings harbours in Sweden to a standstill, Radio Sweden

Hilary Bird, CBC News

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