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Arrive early if you're travelling out of YYJ; delays up to an hour at airport security

Officials at Victoria International Airport are encouraging passengers to arrive early as lanes to get through security checks are seeing delays of up to an hour, and even longer on some days.
The CEO of the Victoria Airport Authority says the 70 per cent drop in passengers last year was far less than originally anticipated. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Officials at Victoria International Airport are encouraging passengers to arrive early as lanes to get through security checks are seeing delays of up to an hour, and even longer on some days.

As the pent-up demand for pandemic-delayed travel pushes into airports, long lines are emerging across Canada, including YYJ which on some days sees 5,000 to 6,000 passengers departing from the terminal.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is blaming pandemic-related staffing shortages for the long lines, and the chief executive of the federal Crown corporation has apologized for the inconvenience to travellers, saying it is “aggressively working” to address the problem.

“CATSA is currently experiencing the pent-up demand for air travel occasioned by the pandemic. This follows two tumultuous years that resulted in a significant number of layoffs throughout the aviation industry, including the security-screening workforce,” Saunders said in a statement.

Victoria airport is recommending domestic travellers give themselves 90 minutes and those heading to international destinations at least two hours.

“It really depends on the time of the day and the number of flights leaving at any given time,” said YYJ spokesman Rod Hunchak.

The airport has added a “wait time” button to its website,, along with scheduled arrivals and departures, so passengers can gauge what lineups might look like.

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, YYJ was seeing between 80 and 100 departures in a single day. That slipped to between 10 and 20 during the pandemic.

But now the airport is seeing 50 departures a day with between 5,000 and 6,000 ­passengers boarding aircraft. With staff shortages in security, that can cause a backup, said Hunchak.

He said the Victoria Airport Authority is forecasting passenger volumes to surge during the spring and summer and by the end of the year to hit about 80% of the nearly two million passengers that went through the terminal in 2019.

The airport is seeing what played out in the U.S., when restrictions were lifted and airports were flooded with travellers, he said. “When travel rebounds it happens very quickly,” said Hunchak. “We had a slow January, February and March, and it just took off after that.”

Hunchak said airlines are responding with larger planes and more flights.

Passengers can save time by checking in online and knowing the regulations in the countries they visit, including rapid antigen testing if they’re flying into the U.S. and other countries. “We still have people arriving who don’t know all the rules,” he said.

The Victoria terminal is also adjusting to the new normal.

The White Spot restaurant, Fresh Cup cafe and newsstand-gift shop remain closed, challenged by staffing issues and spotty passenger traffic. Spinnakers and the newsstand are open in the post-security area.

Victoria Distillers, which makes Victoria Gin, opened in September and will likely be increasing its hours. It’s the only distiller in a Canadian airport and customers can watch their bottles being filled, labelled and sealed as they wait.

The Fickle Fig Farmer’s Market and Bistro is preparing to reopen.

Meanwhile, Lynx Air, which describes itself as “ultra affordable,” announced Thursday it will start service to Victoria International Airport next week.

The airline will offer two flights a week between Calgary and Victoria starting on May 12, increasing to three weekly fights beginning June 22.

Lynx said one-way flights from Victoria start at $39, and will start at $49 from Calgary. The airline said those prices include taxes and fees, but are subject to availability.

Lynx is using new Boeing 737 aircraft.

Geoff Dickson, president and CEO of the Victoria Airport Authority, said as the economy begins to reopen, Lynx provides a new option for travellers. “A low-cost airline like Lynx will offer affordable travel options for our community and provide opportunities for travellers to explore the beauty and culture of Victoria,” he said.