TORONTO - Those long lineups at airport security checkpoints? Maybe they're not as long as you think they are.
According to surveys done quarterly by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, perceived wait times vary depending on who is doing the perceiving.
"Passengers that arrive a couple of hours before their flight find the wait times to be much more acceptable than those that arrive at the last minute, even if the wait time is the same," says Mathieu Larocque, spokesman for the Crown corporation that screens air travellers and their baggage.
As well, business travellers find wait times to be longer than leisure passengers do, "even if in reality they're identical."
With the busiest travel days of the year coming up, CATSA is asking travellers to keep those lineups moving by following the rules.
In particular, the rule limiting containers of liquids, gels and aerosols to 100 millilitres in carry-on bags, implemented in August 2006, is "still a mystery to some passengers" and is the biggest culprit in causing delays at security checkpoints, Larocque says. Personal products like hand creams, toothpaste and shaving creams fall into the same category.
"If at Christmastime you're bringing back Grandma's jam in your carry-on bag, sadly you can't have a container that's bigger than 100 millilitres," he says.
Passenger volumes jump during the holiday season at airports across the country. In Edmonton, the numbers are projected to rise 30 per cent from 23,000 a day to more than 30,000 in the few days before Christmas, Larocque says. At Toronto's Pearson International, the country's busiest airport, almost 105,000 travellers are expected on Dec. 21.
CATSA tries to keep security wait times under 10 minutes, but small hiccups in the queue can accumulate and cause big delays.
"It starts with something as simple as having your boarding pass ready when you get to the screening checkpoint," Larocque says. "If there are a few hundred passengers in the lineup and you take an extra 45 seconds to get your boarding pass from the bottom of your purse or carry-on bag, it slows things down."
Same thing with forgetting to remove loose change from your pocket before going through the metal detector.
Peak travel times for domestic flights at Canadian airports are generally early in the morning, around 6-7 a.m., and in the afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m. Avoiding these periods, if possible, can improve your chances of a speedier trip through security.
No one enjoys waiting like cattle to be screened, but Larocque says making the experience "as pleasant as possible" is a priority for CATSA.
The organization has implemented "stress-free" screening lanes for families and travellers with special needs. Staff there receive training on how to deal, for example, with children who may be reluctant to go through a metal detector on their own.
CATSA also responded to travellers' complaints by ensuring a pat-down is now done by a screening officer of the same sex as the traveller, he says.
"We want a customer satisfaction rate above 85 per cent."
On Monday, CATSA inaugurated a Twitter feed with travel tips, airline alerts and other information.
Wait times at major Canadian airports can be checked at http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/baggage-security/airport-wait-times. CATSA's advice on packing carry-on bags is posted at http://www.catsa.gc.ca.