by Edward Wilkinson Latham

Porter Airlines

Reporter Magazine-Issue 10

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Airport security in Canada has changed significantly in the last decade with the application of more rigorous screening procedures. That doesn’t mean it has to be a more time-consuming or even an unpleasant experience. After all, you are in the hands of people who care.

When Porter Airlines unveiled their newly expanded full- service terminal in Toronto earlier this year, it was the perfect opportunity to renew relationships with its partners and stakeholders, none more important to the security of passengers than the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). A Canadian Crown corporation led by experts in aviation, security and intelligence, CATSA’s mandate since its inception in 2002 has been to standardize all passenger and baggage screening practices across Canada, expanding a program of effectiveness, efficiency and consistency. Paul Folkes is CATSA’s Central Region Operations Manager responsible for the screening security at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. It is his job to ensure security contracts are compliant, standard operation procedures are upheld and the training and recertification of security officers is maintained. Before moving to CATSA, Paul spent 26 years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, nine of which were in National Security Investigation, and also worked as a security inspector with Transport Canada.

“Porter is doing a great job at marketing its product. We get a lot of high-profile business travellers and families through this airport – but our job is to ensure the security of all their passengers. We work to retain high standards of security and passenger relations and we want that process and experience to be exactly the same throughout the country, whether it be in St. John’s Newfoundland, Victoria or Iqaluit. The screening officers here do a great job.”

Paul informs me that CATSA delivers its security screening through a third- party Screening Contractor Model. GARDA is the company under contract with CATSA to deliver these services at Toronto City Airport. Some screening officers are fluent in English and French to ensure passengers can be served in both official languages. All officers must pass numerous CATSA examinations and complete hours of on-site training to perfect their skills.

Denise Borg has been a GARDA screening officer for over three years. She works at the forefront of passenger relations and is qualified to operate all the latest technical gadgetry, including the recently installed full-body scanner. During her career she has dealt with many passenger “situations,” all the while applying her training in conflict resolution and customer service, both of which CATSA consistently promotes. “Some passengers want to rush through the security zone, while others can get nervous or even angry if they have to surrender an item to us, but we give them lots of choices. Part of our job is to politely explain the process and rules to the passenger and maintain a calm and controlled situation. Often all it requires is using the correct tone of voice.”

In response to the often conflicting information supplied by airlines from country to country as to what items are permissible in both checked luggage and carry-ons, CATSA has developed a series of highly informative print and online guides known as Pack Smart. These they hope will educate the Canadian public and international visitors and ultimately save everyone time and annoyance.

For all the advances in security technology and clear, constructive advice offered to passengers, a few are still not dissuaded from trying to outwit screening officers. Thus these highly trained men and women must be constantly prepared for the unpredictable, able to adapt and quickly differentiate, for example, a water pistol in a bag that belongs to a family with young children from something more threatening, perhaps concealed within a seemingly harmless item.

The Hold Baggage Screening (HBS) area is a section of the airport that passengers never see. Checked luggage is passed along a ceiling-mounted carousel at high speed through a series of advanced controlled checks. The system flags selected bags as suspicious and chooses others at random for further screening. These bags are then sent to an enclosed area housing a gleaming, barrel-shaped scanner. The advanced sensors are able to detect a full spectrum of explosives and trace chemical elements. Officers operating this advanced screening area access hundreds of flagged bags every day, as the CATSA operating procedures dictate that the specialized equipment must be constantly in service and not simply used for exceptional situations.

“Certain materials are highlighted with certain colours,” explains senior officer Carol Lavin, drawing my attention to the scanned images on the computer screen. “Then I can focus on a specific area, or the whole bag.” The layers of ghostly images look confusing to the untrained eye, more like an artist’s sketch, lines crossing and shapes intermingling. Carol identifies a pair of shoes and a wash bag containing a razor and toothbrush, expertly reading the images as if they were a text in a foreign language. If this bag shows no signs of irregularity, it will be loaded on to a cart and taken to the designated aircraft within five to 10 minutes of the passenger’s checking in, upholding CATSA’s mandate of high level security going hand-in-hand with first-rate customer service. The only thing then that can slow down the entire process of security screening is we, the passengers, so as CATSA says, pack smart! That will leave us more time to experience Porter’s luxurious lounge. Why would we want to miss that?