YYC Calgary International Airport and its partners are ramping up for a very busy travel season.
It is their first real holiday travel season since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
“We’re going to have 1.3 million guests forecast throughout the month of December,” said Chris Miles, the vice-president of operations and infrastructure for the airport authority.
“From Dec. 16 to Jan. 3, that’s actually going up to 50,000 guests per day.”
After more than two years of disrupted holiday travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgary-based WestJet said it is also ready to welcome more than one million fliers this Christmas and New Year’s.
The airline, which has had a turbulent few months due to data outages and weather cancellations, said it has been working hard to get staff and flights ready to take off.
“We have recently just hired 60 new people in Calgary,” Colleen Tynan, WestJet’s vice-president of airports, told Global News. “The schedule that we have out there is exactly what we expect to fly at this time.”
Flying now that public health restrictions have been lifted
Flying this year is quite different than it was earlier in the pandemic, when there were more public health restrictions at YYC International.
The airport still has the hand-sanitizing stations but people are no longer required to wear masks or show vaccination records.
Miles pointed out that doesn’t mean the airport isn’t taking COVID safety seriously.
“We have a very rigorous disinfection protocol,” he said. “We haven’t reduced any of the cleaning protocols here.“
What has been reduced — even removed — are some of the federal protocols such as the requirement to use the ArriveCan app for people flying in from outside of Canada.
Lisa White with the Canada Border Services Agency pointed out that while things did run pretty smoothly with the app, they are even faster now.
“It makes the travel experience a lot easier,” she said. “Less fumbling for travellers.”
But White said having the correct paperwork is still key.
“Travellers should have necessary documents ready, like their passports. It’s also important to declare all goods you are bringing into Canada.”
Make a list and check it twice
Airport officials suggest fliers also pack their patience and pack correctly.
Packing “savvy” involves not putting liquids over 100 ml in your carry-on — even the liquid in your Christmas snow globe. Other prohibited items include knives, bath salts, fire crackers and any wrapped gifts.
“Really what slows down screening is when you have some of these items show up in your carry-on bags,” Miles said. “Because, effectively, once that shows up in the bag, it requires an additional search.”
What you do want to do, say officials, is show up early for your flight. The recommendation continues to be two hours for domestic flights and three for international trips.
New and returning to YYC
Those picking up passengers at YYC this year are getting a bit of a break. The airport is offering 20 minutes of free parking in its short-term lots from Dec. 15 to Jan. 8 and 60 minutes of free wait time in its cellphone lots.
Back again this year, the airport is offering a pre-booking service for security. The YYC Express — the first in Canada — is an online reservation system that allows guests to book a time to go through security screening via a dedicated queue.
Also returning after a pandemic pause — the Pre-board Pals program. The pups and their volunteer handlers help fliers handle the stress of flying.
“It was tough,” longtime volunteer Wendy Krenzel told Global News about not being at the airport during the early stretch of the pandemic. “We went from 53 volunteers to only five of us when we first came back.”
“We were all excited that we were invited back,” fellow volunteer Victoria Winslow added. “We see these dogs do really great work.”
“How many times do we hear, ‘You just made my day. It’s a really great place,'” new volunteer Linda Walters chimed in.
The pup pals, along with the White Hat Volunteers and all staff, will be at YYC to welcome guests all season long.