I want safe air travel, and I understand that in light of these troubled times, extra steps have been taken at airports to ensure that we all arrive at our destinations safely and in one piece.
So, I do my part, dutifully dumping my products into travel bottles and squinting at the volumes on my creams and cosmetics. I keep my purse neat and as empty as possible, putting my liquids in a separate ziploc bag. I dress without metal clasps and avoid wearing jewelry, and take my laptop out and put it in a separate bin. Coming home I keep receipts and fill out all the required forms. I don’t import alcohol or tobacco, or try to bring in foreign meat or exotic produce.
I like to think I’m well-traveled; I’ve been through dozens of airports worldwide, including those in underdeveloped or unstable countries, or countries that are routinely targeted by terrorists. But I swear to god, I have never, ever been treated as poorly as I have in the Saskatoon airport, whether departing or arriving. It’s gotten so that I’m at the point where I’d rather drive to freaking Calgary and fly out of their airport than deal with Saskatoon’s Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) or Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA) employees.
Like I’ve already said – I get it. These folks have a job to do. I imagine they deal with plenty of crooks and fools of all shapes, sizes and colours every day. That said, there is no excuse for the rude, abrasive and intimidating behaviour exhibited over and over again by Saskatoon officials. And it’s not just me who feels this way, but this is my blog, so I’m going to tell my stories.
Going through pre-boarding security in any city is always an ordeal, but in Saskatoon it’s always felt a little… intense. It feels like Saskatoon CATSA agents might enjoy their power – for a few moments they control whether we’re getting on that plane – just a bit more than those in other cities.
And it has gotten worse lately. I wasn’t surprised when I saw that a couple of weeks ago the Saskatoon Airport Authority issued a statement warning travellers that the wait times for security screening had become “significant”. I showed up early for my flight and sure enough anxious flyers were lined up like cattle, while CATSA agents barked out instructions with military-like exuberance. A petrified elderly couple huddled, shoeless, at the end of the conveyor belt as an agent accusingly dangled a plastic bag in front of them like it was a kilo of coke instead of one too many bottles of hair gel, while already exhausted travellers watched as their children were swabbed and their bags torn apart. It felt like I was checking into a maximum security prison instead of our (brand new) airport departures lounge.
However, I was feeling pretty confident in my packing, until it was my turn and the CATSA agent flipped my purse upside down and shook out its contents like a kid dumps Halloween candy out of a pillow case. Then – and I swear this has never happened to me before – he dumps my makeup kit. Perhaps “kit” is a bit of a stretch – it’s a few tubes of your basics – mascara, powder, lipstick etc. I’ve never, ever had an issue with it or had it counted against my liquids total, but there we were. Hand to god, he opens my pressed powder and starts rubbing it with his fingers, explaining he needs to determine if it “smears” (presumably then a liquid, which would count against my total volume) or an actual powder.
I was amazed. That had NEVER happened before. I didn’t even know there was a total volume – but now I sure do, and my mascara counts against it, so tonight the world is a safer place.
Coming home is fun too. Travellers from Vegas seems to be a popular target for Saskatoon CBSA agents. Like many of you, and many of my friends, I’ve been hauled aside and had my suitcase tossed like a salad. Looking for what, I don’t know – maybe smoking hot outlet deals? I mean, I declared those, but maybe Dave just wants to see my new Marc Jacob’s dress for himself. Or, maybe he just wants to make sure I know he holds my fate, just for a moment, in his soft, callous-free hands.
Last night was the last straw.
Returning from Cabo, my 85-year-old grandma was met at the plane door, as she always is, by an attendant with a wheelchair, who wheeled her down to customs, accompanied, as she always is, by my aunt. Bypassing the lineup, as she always does, the attendant wheeled my grandma, followed by my aunt, to the front of the customs queue.
Except this time was different. When it was their turn, the CBSA agent abruptly and aggressively confronted my aunt. While she explained she was accompanying her elderly mother through customs – AS SHE ALWAYS DOES (she wasn’t yelling, but I am) – the agent
who was clearly compensating for his tiny penis ordered my aunt to the very back of the lineup, snarling at her to leave my bewildered grandma with him.
He cleared my grandma, who is a fall-risk and gets confused in unfamiliar circumstances, then had some other staffer push her out to the baggage claim, where she was unceremoniously parked and abandoned. Thank god total strangers, recognizing she was in distress, were able to get a sense of what had happened and waited with her for 45 minutes until my aunt made it through customs and came through.
Frustrated and upset, my aunt asked a CBSA agent for the name of the asswipe who had been so ignorant. She was denied – until she reminded him that they were both public servants, and to give her the goddamn name already (she takes after me), which they did. I know his name, and he knows his name, and now far more important people than him or I know his name, so I won’t share it here. Let’s just say that any puke who mistreats and puts at risk an 85-year-old woman isn’t fit to serve the front line of a McDonald’s, never mind our country.
I love to travel… that feeling of an adventure ready to unfurl in front of you. In my opinion the best part of any trip is the departures lounge, and Saskatoon’s newly renovated one is amazing. I realize that CATSA and the CBSA are two different agencies, and the Saskatoon Airport Authority has no actual authority over either of them. But somebody has to do something, because despite the shiny new construction and beautiful aesthetic, the Saskatoon airport experience is not a pleasant one at the moment.
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For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime about either at firstname.lastname@example.org.