As weary U.S.-bound travellers queued up to face heightened security measures at airports in Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton on Monday, the federal government called in the Mounties to help screen passengers travelling south of the border.
A spokesman for the RCMP said the officers will be trying to help clear up the backlog of passengers delayed by new, stricter security measures imposed after a failed terrorist attack on Christmas Day aboard a plane bound for Detroit.
New security measures facing travellers include a pat-down by security agents as well as tougher restrictions on what passengers are allowed to take on the plane.
Bags with wheels are no longer being allowed as a carry-on, and only one bag per traveller can be taken on the plane. All others have to be checked.
“If you have a purse and a computer, you have to choose between the two,” said Lincoln Sivasanmugam, an Air Canada service agent at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
That had some travellers unpacking their bags at the check-in counters. Others had to buy new luggage at airport stores.
Tired and frustrated passengers were trying hard to take it all in stride.
Many praised the orderliness of Air Canada’s process of checking for American flights.
Yvonne Moynes was travelling from Canada to the United States, where she lives half the year. She said Air Canada was handling the situation well.
“They’re very organized. We’ve been told exactly where to go and where to stand and so far so good.”
News reports explaining the new restrictions were helpful, she added.
“People should be really aware of how to be ready before the flight.”
One woman said the lines are the worst she’s seen during her family’s annual Christmas trek to Canada.
“This is probably five times the lines we’ve ever experienced,” said Christin Grand, who was travelling home to Atlanta with her three children and her husband.
“We’re going to be pushed through because of our three kids … hopefully … my infant is six months,” she said while her husband tried to calm another crying child.
“We come up every Christmas and never experienced lines like this. We usually show up an hour and fifteen minutes before our flight and we’re two-plus hours before and it’s still crazy.”
Still, officials said things were running more smoothly Monday as Air Canada consolidated some flights to ease the crunch.
Transport Minister John Baird called the RCMP Sunday night, for help providing security at Canada’s largest airports.
Baird toured Pearson on Monday morning, meeting with security officials. Additional Transport Canada employees have been called in on overtime to deal with the extra security needs.
At Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, city police were called up.
American officials agreed to keep U.S. customs offices open until 11 p.m. each night until the security situation is reassessed.
Trish Krale of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said she doesn’t expect the extra security measures to be lifted “for at least several days.”
There have been lengthy lineups at the airport since the failed attack Friday by a suspect identified as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, of Nigeria.
He was charged Saturday with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as the plane approached Detroit by igniting an explosive substance hidden in his pants. An al-Qaida group claimed responsibility for the attempt on Monday.
The attempted terrorist attack prompted authorities to add new layers of security on top of measures adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
At Pearson’s Terminal 1, the Air Canada service agent said the wait to check in baggage and passengers was about a half-hour.
“We are getting the people checked in on time,” said Sivasanmugam.
But Air Canada was also being held to strict landing times by U.S. airports. In order to meet those deadlines, flights had to leave exactly on time or be cancelled.
“If we miss the slot time there is no point in us leaving … you gotta be there on time. If not, they don’t want us,” said Sivasanmugam as he called passengers for their flights.