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'We're not the Grinch,' CATSA says as peak air travel season approaches

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With the holiday season here, Calgary International Airport is gearing up for its busiest time of year.

Chris Miles, Calgary Airport Authority COO, says the holiday push starts Dec. 16 and runs until Jan. 3, with the busiest days forecasted to be Dec. 22, 23 and 27.

During that time, upward of 55,000 guests are expected to use the terminals each day, for a total of 1.5 million people making their way through the airport throughout the season.

"Knowing that, we actually start preparing very early. Our airside snow removal teams start practising as early as August," Miles said.

"So we want to make sure that whatever Mother Nature is going to throw at us, we are exceptionally well-prepared to ensure that everyone that's coming through our airport gets to their destination safe, secure and as seamlessly as possible."

The Calgary Airport Authority is asking travellers to plan ahead to save time and make their experience more enjoyable.

"We continue to recommend arriving two hours early for domestic flying, and three hours for international before departure," Miles said.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is also reminding airport guests to "pack savvy" this holiday season.

CATSA showed off some of the items it has recently confiscated, including Christmas lights designed to look like shotgun shells and a can of bear spray, but says liquids, gels and aerosols continue to be the most commonly taken items.

CATSA general manager Josh Budinski says nearing Christmas, travellers need to realize that includes snow globes.

"I think a lot of people forget that snow globes have liquid in (them) and they are under the 100-millilitre rule. We do not like taking snow globes away. We do not. We're not the Grinch," Budinski said.

"We suggest that you please place them in your checked luggage or you just leave them at home."

CATSA also asks travellers not to wrap anything they are carrying on, even if it is destined to be a present

Last year, Christmas travel was a nightmare for a lot of passengers as weather grounded flights, delayed crew changes and stranded travellers across the country.

Miles says YYC learned from that and is as prepared as possible for this year.

Airlines faced the most backlash as angry travellers were often left in the lurch, with many feeling not enough was being done for them by their carrier.

Andy Gibbons, WestJet vice-president of external relations, says the airline has made changes.

"We've invested in technology, we have plans around our fleet and our schedule that are going to make this travel season much more seamless," Gibbons said.

"I think everyone in our sector has gotten together over the last year, we've all been determined to up our game and to make sure that our communications are better. And to make sure that when things go wrong, people are getting the information they need. And that's one thing we heard loud and clear last year was that there were information gaps."

The federal government did pass legislation intended to make it more likely passengers would be compensated for delayed or cancelled flights.

Previously, there were three categories of flight disruptions:

  • Those within an airline's control;
  • Those within an airline's control but required for safety; and
  • Those outside airline control.

The changed legislation now says the only time airlines don't have to provide compensation for flight disruptions is in the case of exceptional circumstances.

However, the agency tasked with implementing those regulations has not defined "exceptional circumstances," so the new rules have not been put into effect.

"They don't apply yet. Currently, it's the existing air passenger protection regulations that apply," said Tom Oommen, director-general of regulations for the Canadian Transportation Agency.

"Very importantly, though, even though it's the existing regulations that apply, what important change that Parliament did make to the law was now the onus -- the burden of proof -- is on the airlines to demonstrate that they don't have to pay compensation, even in the existing system of three categories of flight disruption."

Gabor Lukacs, president of Canadian Air Passenger Rights, says regulators are failing the travelling public, leaving passengers forced to protect themselves.

"So they were given this power and they don't even want to touch the power they were given," Lukacs said.

"Which makes me wonder whether this is just smoke and mirrors to pretend that the government is doing something while in reality, everything is going on unchanged."

Lukacs says part of the preparation for air travel should be to study your rights as passengers and if something goes wrong, ensure you document everything.

"Record audio, record video, take photos, there is not much that you can proactively do other than document what is happening and be aware of your rights," he said.

"Be aware that the airline has to rebook you, including in some cases on flights of other airlines. When they don't live up to the obligation, document, for example, that there were seats available on different airlines. That could be, and will be very useful evidence in court to show that the airline broke its obligation under the law." 

(With files from Mason DePatie)

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