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RCMP may speed pre-flight screening but new Ottawa rules cause havoc, holdups

TORONTO — Ottawa’s move to call in the RCMP to help with passenger searches at Canada’s main airports may get travellers to the United States through security sooner, but a new rule against carry-on luggage is causing havoc and holdups for many before they even get to the security areas.

U.S. customs agents are playing hardball when it comes to the new rule.

Airline agents in Toronto say travellers with bags and purses deemed too large are being sent back by customs agents and not allowed onto flights to the United States until the bags are checked.

An RCMP spokesman says the federal government has asked for the Mounties’ help with passenger screening at major airports in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary until Wednesday.

But Sgt. Marc LaPorte says Transportation Minister John Baird may ask to keep officers on the job past Dec. 30 to speed up security checks, which now include pat-downs.

Lineups for U.S. flights at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport ranged from short to very lengthy on Tuesday.

At one point early in the morning, according to several Air Canada ticket agents, there was a huge lineup with a 2 1/2-hour wait to check in for American-bound flights.

The cause, according to an Air Canada agent, is many passengers having to repack their luggage right at the check-in counters to comply with the new “no carry-on luggage” rule.

Many of those in line seem unaware of the new restrictions announced by Transport Canada on Monday evening.

Only small purses, laptops and a small list of items including medical supplies are now being allowed for carry-on. All rolling bags must be checked.

Alexandra Marriott, 19, and her family had to repack a number of their large bags at the check-in counter. The Ecuadorian teenager and four relatives were in Canada for the holidays.

“They said that we have to put all the carry-ons in the bags, because they will send us back here, so we’re repacking everything and we’re taking out our laptops and we can’t take everything with us,” Marriot said.

“I think all the people in here (are) like ’Come on, move!”’

The new restrictions also made Sandra Papaianni nervous. The 34-year-old mother of three children, two of them in diapers, was trying to pare down to the bare essentials as she and her family approached the check-in line at the Air Canada counter at Pearson’s Terminal 1.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. Between a little sweater, a blankie, bottles, snacks, cheerios and diapers, we’re going to be a little tight.”

“(How will I) cope with a little bag? I’m not sure. Let’s just hope they don’t need to go to the bathroom too many times,” Papaianni said.

But she was philosophical about the possibility of having to repack at the check-in counter.

“I’m hoping not but if we do I guess we have no choice ... It’s for our own safety, right?”

Papaianni and her husband were looking for locker space at the airport to store items until they return to Canada.

Another man boarding the plane had been re-booked after his Sunday flight to La Guardia was cancelled following a five-hour wait, along with more than 100 other flights.

Even to get there two days late, Desmond Gamble had to book a flight to another New York airport.

“When I rescheduled, the flights were fully booked on Monday, and they were fully booked on Tuesday, so I asked them for another airport, and White Plains was available, so I re-booked for White Plains,” explained Gamble, 42, who works in IT support.

The new rules were good business for some, including shops selling luggage at the airport.

Emily Krynick at The Travel Store in Terminal 1 said the amount of luggage being bought at the store is up by 20 to 30 per cent since the new carry-on restrictions came into effect.

“A lot of the bags are sold just because you have to check in your bag, you can’t carry it on, so you have to buy a bigger bag, so you spend more money.”

“Yesterday we had a couple of people coming in frantically getting more bags because they were late from their flight as well and there was a big lineup for the gates, a huge lineup.”

U.S.-bound passengers must pass three levels of security: regular pre-flight passenger screening, U.S. Customs, and additional screening that can include pat-downs.

The Mounties are aiding employees of Transport Canada who usually do the screenings.

The new security restrictions were adopted after a man tried to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.

 
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