Checkpoint snarly Travellers have more than a few grievances to air when it comes to flight security procedures at Winnipeg's airport
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Confiscated corned beef.
Rifled-through dirty underwear.
An X-rayed cat.
These are a few of the nearly 300 airport security complaints filed by passengers travelling through Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport over the past seven years.
The records, held by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and obtained by the Free Press via a federal access to information request, offer a peek into airport passengers’ travel gripes, ranging from confiscated food to allegations of racial profiling. Parts of some complaints were redacted, with CATSA citing privacy laws, while others did not include dates when complaints were filed. They cover the time period between January 2015 and May 2022.
In the wake of recent nightmare air travel stories during the chaotic 2022 holiday season, the records highlight the low points of travel year-round.
Suzanne Perseo, a CATSA spokesperson, said in a statement all complaints are taken seriously and if an investigation is required, it may include a review of CCTV video footage, interviews with screening staff and discussions with local CATSA management.
“Where an issue has been identified and substantiated through the complaint process, corrective action may be taken including changes to processes and procedures,” Perseo said.
According to one report, a person’s pet cat was inadvertently X-rayed.
The complainant wrote their cat ended up in a tray while going through security.
“(W)e hear worryingly ‘there’s a cat in here,’” the person wrote. A security officer then apparently scolded the complainant’s wife, “saying that it was my wife’s fault our cat got X-RAYED it was up to us to know not to leave her on the tray.”
“My wife and I are very worried about the safety of our cat and feel very (redacted),” the person said in the complaint.
“My wife and I are very worried about the safety of our cat and feel very (redacted).”–Complainant.
CATSA said travellers must let screening officers know they are travelling with a pet.
“This is especially important given that some animal carriers cannot be differentiated from hand luggage,” Perseo said. “The passenger will be asked by the screening officer to remove the animal from its carrier and carry it through the walk-through metal detector. The animal’s cage or carrier will also be screened.”
Several complainants raised concerns about food policies.
“Can you please explain why security confiscated corned beef …?” one wrote. “Did guards just want to keep it for themselves?”
“Can you please explain why security confiscated corned beef …? Did guards just want to keep it for themselves?”–Complainant
Another complained their foie gras wasn’t allowed. And another was upset security tossed their food.
“I had frozen food and the lady said when it thaws there will be some liquid,” the traveller wrote. “She said I can bring apples and stuff. If you squeeze an apple you get liquid do you not?”
One passenger called to ask why items such as honey are not donated to charity.
“I explained that CATSA cannot donate intercepted consumables as we cannot guarantee their safety,” the call-taker wrote.
Another was upset they couldn’t bring their blender on the plane.
Other intercepted items, according to complaints, include: seasoning salt, toothpaste, baby food, a swiss army knife, lighters, allen keys and sunscreen.
Perseo said allen keys are allowed. She noted that CATSA does not “confiscate” items, rather that passengers have the choice to “surrender a non-permitted item” or put it in their checked baggage.
One person complained after security officers — whom they called “morons” — rifled through their dirty underwear.
“When I wasn’t looking (they) took my soiled underwear out of the plastic grocery bag and left it loose in my nice leather carryon bag,” the traveller wrote. “Can’t they tell what a dirty laundry bag is withough [sic] tearing it apart… There wasn’t much in that small plastic bag but two dirty gitch, two white t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt.”
Some complaints went on for paragraphs — others went directly to the point.
“Lines for screening way too long. Why?” one wrote.
One of the most common complaints was NEXUS pass holders didn’t get to use the express line.
“I am Super elite and a nexus card holder and should NOT have to wait in a 20 min line up on a Sunday evening for security,” wrote a traveller, who added only having one lane open was “ridiculous.”
Perseo said unfortunately it is not always feasible to open the Trusted Traveller lane.
“CATSA meets regularly with airport and airline representatives to discuss information such as the number of flights scheduled and upcoming events at the airport. Using this information and historical data, CATSA calculates how many lines should be open.”
She added that those with trusted traveller status move to the front of the regular line when the express line is closed.
Dozens of travellers complained about rude agents and slow lines.
“I have a flight in exactly 45 minutes and have been in line at security for over an hour,” wrote one person, seemingly while in line. “Even the nexus line is closed and every nexus passenger is jumping the line… Please advise. 41 minutes to my flight now and getting dicey.”
Another said security need to “work on their manners.”
“They were rude, condescending and frankly, unprofessional. I will try to avoid all further travel to this location.”
“They (security) were rude, condescending and frankly, unprofessional. I will try to avoid all further travel to this location.”–Complainant
Several people took issue with routinely being singled out for “random” screening.
“I wonder if I am being (redacted) and so many assumptions are being made about me,” one person wrote.
Perseo said CATSA does not profile passengers and that all travellers should expect to be treated with “respect, dignity and professionalism.”
One complainant said security officers asked them if they had anything “in their underwear.” The complaint was partially redacted but the person said “it was extremely inappropriate to patrionize [sic] me and shout across for other passengers and agents to hear. This could put me in severe harm.” They raised concerns about “cis-normative thinking.”
“It is 2021 and this should not be happening,” they wrote.
Only a few reports referenced COVID-19. In March 2020, one traveller said they were worried about security using dirty gloves “especially as Coronavirus fear escalates.” Some said they had difficulties proving they were vaccinated or that proof of vaccination wasn’t checked.
A few people called security officers names. One likened a staffer to a “robot” while another suggested they were cave-dwellers.
“They are paid to be the professional face of airport security, not angry troglodytes,” the person wrote.
Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.