Apologies for the short hiatus from writing but I was on a short Boys Trip vacation with some friends but fret not, I managed to visit a couple of lounges on the trip and will provide a couple of comprehensive reviews. Today, I will be focusing on my impressions of the new terminal at the Calgary International Airport (YYC).
Calgary’s New International Wing
For those that aren’t aware, the Calgary Airport Authority has just recently (October 31st) opened a new terminal with 24 new gates designed to handle US and International traffic. From what I saw at the terminal, much was taken into consideration to allow for the efficient processing of passengers so that they can get past the land side and to the air side of the terminal. This mean, many kiosks to get your boarding passes and a lot of space so it doesn’t feel cramped and rushed. As you can see from the picture below, there are self-serve kiosks all down the left side of the building which are not designated for any one particular airline, which makes it much more efficient. There is a heavy automation theme at the airport with many of the tasks previously provided by agents now being handled by machines. In fact, I saw many automatic bag drop kiosks and very few agents.
Improvements in Security Handling
One of the most stressful aspects of air travel is clearing security. Not because you’ve done anything wrong but because here, more than anywhere in the airport, everyone seems to be in a hurry. A lot of airports will have huge fans blowing in the area after security because they know people are hot and sweaty after going through a stressful situation.
The Calgary Airport Authority has taken that into consideration and have now made it much easier to clear security. Rather than have everyone wait in line for their turn through security, there are now 4 stations per line where you can take out your laptops, liquids and gels and place everything in a bin.
What this means is that you don’t have to feel rushed if you are slow and you don’t have to wait for slow people if you are fast. You basically clear customs as your own pace. As you can see in the picture above, you first go to an open station and start placing your items in the bin on top. If you require more bins, they are automatically fed in through the bottom section. Once you are ready, you place your items on the conveyor belt like every other airport and go through the metal detector.
Once you are cleared through security, you are given space to repack your bags and get your items in order as seen in the picture below. Unfortunately, you still have to remove your shoes here because the terminal service both international destinations as well as the United States, the latter of which requires shoe removal.
After security, for US departures, you will go up an escalator to the US Customs area.
I didn’t get a great picture of the kiosks in this because I didn’t want to go to Guantanamo Bay but in this section, you use the aforementioned kiosk to answer some standard questions. Once you complete this process, you are given a printout which you take to the US Customs and Border Protection Agent (the guy behind the tiny desk) for review. And that’s it. You’ve now cleared US Customs.
I’ve cleared US Customs a ton of time and have always been able to use the NEXUS card to move through the process faster than those that don’t have it but with this new system, the time savings looks to be not as significant. Don’t get me wrong. I always recommend people get the NEXUS card because not all airports are this efficient but with this new setup, you will probably save 2-3 minutes rather than the 15-30 in some cases.
New Shopping Area
After you clear customs, you will walk through a Duty Free shop before you exit to the shops and gates area of the airport. I’m not a fan of forcing passengers through a Duty Free shop as part of their route but thankfully the one in the Calgary International Airport is fairly small, in fact, it is so small that I didn’t get my phone out in time to take a picture.
Once you are past the Duty Free, you enter into the same airy and open feel of the landside portion of the terminal.
And yes .. you have access to a Starbucks after security.
Now here’s a tidbit you may not know about. The new terminal is designed so that passengers spend more time loitering around the shops of the terminal than at the gate. They do this in two ways:
- There are very few seats at the gate, meaning you will stand around a lot if you want to be at your gate early.
- Gates are not assigned to your flight until the plane lands. This is to allow the airport to have extreme flexibility when it comes to assigning planes to gates. In many airports, gates are assigned well in advance so if a plane is late in departing their gate, the whole system backs up. If you’ve flown enough you will remember a time when the pilot come over the public address system to let you know there’s a delay because there is a plane currently in your assigned gate. With this new system, if a plane has a mechanical failure or is otherwise delayed and can’t leave the gate, it’s no problem. The plane that is landing and looking for a gate will be assigned an open spot.
With these two factors in mind, the new terminal really does try a lot to turn passengers into patrons which means that you are more likely to spend money at one of the stores or restaurants at the airport.
The New Gates
As I mentioned earlier, there are very few seats at the gate and as a result you get a very open feel to the airport.
I really like the new terminal but it does feel a bit impersonal for the moment. I attribute that to the fact that very few flights were taking off at the time of our departure so the large terminal felt very hospital like and baren. There were also very large sections of the terminal that lacked artwork, stores, kiosks or anything to fill in the negative space. Again, this is something that will come with time.
I will be flying out to the new terminal in January so hopefully there will be a “warmer” feeling to the terminal so I’ll reserve my judgement for the time being.
Things I Liked and One Big Miss
I really, really, really liked all the small details that were thought of by the Calgary Airport Authority in order to save time for passengers and to make the experience of clearing security and customs much more relaxed and enjoyable. I feel they REALLY hit their mark there.
The one thing that I really thought was a BIG MISS at the terminal was how they had large metal sections where the windows should be.
These things are all around the terminal and really impede the views of the runway and planes. Look at the picture above. Where are the kids? They’re all at the window looking at the planes. Why would you want to block those views? The new runway is a marvel as are the aircraft that service the airport. People love watching planes take off and land and these metal monstrosities really make it hard to see the action. I’m not sure if they are structural in nature or a design feature but I really think they missed the mark on this one. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the future.