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80% of travellers confident in airport security screening, internal government survey suggests

The frantic mad rush to get to the airport during the holidays is such a common trope, the Home Alone franchise centred two movies around it.

But while the McCallister family had a hard time getting through the airport with all their children in tow, an internal survey conducted for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority shows that is not usually the case in Canada.

The level of confidence passengers have in security screening is the highest it has been since CATSA, a Crown corporation, began tracking customer satisfaction five years ago, according to an internal government report released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Four out of five passengers said they had confidence in the security screening procedures at Canada’s airports, rating the process five, six or seven out of seven. 

Only 14 per cent of passengers said they had a moderate sense of confidence (four out of seven) while five per cent of respondents reported having a low sense of confidence (three or less out of seven.) 

Every quarter, CATSA asks travellers at the Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver airports to rate their current and past experiences going through security.

The survey, conducted between Feb. 13 and March 3, 2017, recorded an overall satisfaction rate of 86 per cent when it came to the airport screening process — a two-point increase over the same period in 2016, according to a report on the survey prepared for government stakeholders.

“Passengers continue to attribute confidence in the screening process to thorough and effective screening procedures,” said the document.

Mathieu Larocque, spokesperson for CATSA, said people only hear about the negative stories but most people have a pleasant experience.

“It’s a reflection on the screening officers,” he said.

Perceived wait times lowest in Montreal

The CATSA report said the average perceived wait time was just under 10 minutes. Travellers in Montreal reported the shortest average wait time at 6.7 minutes, while Vancouver passengers logged the longest perceived wait time, at 13 minutes.

The report found that 88 per cent of passengers were screened in 15 minutes or less.

Those who took the survey said the wait would have to be 25 minutes or more to negatively affect their trip.

“The relationship between the perceived screening time and the length deemed unacceptable by a passenger is an important factor and shapes their view of the entire screening experience,” the survey analysis said.

Frequent travellers, those who travelled 11 or more times in the past two years, provided lower satisfaction ratings on average.

Holiday Travel 20171220

Hundreds of passengers wait in a lineup at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Saturday April 1, 2017. Canadian holiday travellers should brace for crowds and delays as a record number of passengers are expected to pass through the country’s largest airport are filled with holiday travellers. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

According to CATSA’s profile, these travellers tend to be business passengers and those travelling with pre-clearance Nexus cards, often male and between the ages of 35 to 54. They also bring more carry-on items, said the report.

When it came to the amount of help provided by security officers, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport saw a three-point decrease in satisfaction over the previous report, to 78 per cent.

Almost everyone was served in the official language of their choice, according to the responses.

‘You don’t get rich being a screener’

While the CATSA report said passengers described a relatively seamless experience, the union representing thousands of airport security workers says it’s a different story behind the scenes.

“We’re glad to hear that passenger satisfaction is at an all-time high because our members face challenges in doing this work and it takes a toll on them,” said Dave Lipton, the staff representative for the United Steelworkers Union. It represents about 5,000 airport screeners across Canada.

They’re under pressure to do an exacting job, make sure they don’t let through any threats, but at the same time, process large numbers of people at any one time, so that there’s not very many backups.”

The union says in the 2016-17 fiscal year their employees screened 61.8 million passengers.

Industry analysts are expecting a record number of people to pass through the country’s largest airports this Christmas.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport expects nearly 2.7 million passengers will travel through the country’s largest airport between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7, up from 1.9 million last year, when there were fewer days of elevated traffic.

It’s an issue the union plans to raise when it sits down with management negotiators early in the new year.

You don’t get rich being a screener right now,” Lipton said.

CATSA surveys about 5,500 passengers quarterly at a cost of about $ 50,000 to $ 70,000, according to internal emails. It has been running the satisfaction survey since 2011-12.

CBC | Politics News