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Passengers advised to arrive early to Victoria airport in case of security-screening waits

Airport officials say the busiest times are early in the morning and between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when multiple flights are leaving.
Travellers line up for pre-boarding security checks at Victoria International Airport on Monday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Travellers flying out of Victoria International Airport are being urged to arrive early enough to get through security amid extended pre-boarding waits that are also happening at airports across the country.

The busiest times are early in the morning and between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when multiple flights are leaving, airport community relations director Rod Hunchak said Monday.

Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Monday, the maximum wait time to get through security was just over one hour, he said, while from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. it was about 20 to 30 minutes.

“It has to do with volume of passengers as well as the number of CATSA security staff available to be assigned at each of the screening lanes,” Hunchak said. “This morning, for example, there was only one lane open first thing in the morning and that is why the wait times were that long.”

CATSA — the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, a Crown corporation responsible for security screening — notified the Victoria airport that there might be waits on Monday, prompting the airport to post a notice on Twitter urging travellers to arrive early, although wait times did not turn out to be as long as expected.

At times, lineups for pre-boarding security stretch into the airport’s public area and airport staff show up to help manage those numbers.

A major factor in long waits at airports across the country is a shortage of trained security workers. In Victoria, security workers are employed by a contractor for CATSA.

Wait times can vary significantly depending on the time of day, but can be as little as five to 10 minutes, Hunchak said.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and other senior federal officials, including representatives of CATSA and NAV Canada — a private not-for-profit corporation that operates Canada’s civil air traffic control system — met on June 23 with airline and airport officials to address the problem.

Since April, more than 1,000 CATSA screening officers have been hired across the country. That brings the number of officers at Vancouver International Airport and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to more than 100 per cent of what was targeted to handle this summer’s expected traffic.

Another factor in pre-boarding security for travellers heading in and out of Victoria is the number of delays seen at larger airports that result in a domino effect. “We sometimes see the end effect of what has been going on earlier in the day at other airports,” Hunchak said.

Most Canadian airports are also experiencing a surge in demand from passengers keen to travel as COVID-related restrictions are eased, coinciding with the arrival of the busy summer season. “So there’s a lot of factors at play right now,” said Hunchak, who recommends passengers arrive 90 minutes to two hours ahead of their flight time.

As of June 11, mandatory random COVID testing was temporarily suspended at airports until June 30.

CATSA’s tips to get through pre-boarding security smoothly

• Place coins, keys and small metal items in your carry-on. If your cellphone is not being used as your boarding pass, put it in your carry-on bag.

• Put liquids, aerosols and gels in a clear one-litre resealable bag.

• Unpack your laptop and place it in the bin at security. Do not put anything on top of it.

• Remove your coat and put it in the bin. Pack your bins neatly to help screening officers see the X-ray image clearly.