With the colder months ahead, holiday travel is gearing up at the Edmonton International Airport. Travellers often feel anxious about making it to their flight on time, finding their gate, and crossing their fingers that no flight delays occur and mess up travel plans. For me, the worst part of travelling is being randomly selected for additional screening by a safety officer while in line to go through security. Without fail, I am chosen nearly every time I fly. I am always willing to do my part to ensure the safety of the airport, but sometimes, it feels unnecessary when you know that you have done no wrong. Nonetheless, we complete the screening process and are sent on our way.
“Random additional screening” is completed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), a federal government agency which dictates the safety rules and regulations that pertain to air travel. CATSA reports directly to the Minister of Transport, The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez. The agency’s mission is to “protect the public by securing critical elements of the air transportation system as assigned by the government.”
As the Canadian Parliament outlines, the organization’s responsibilities within airports regard “pre-screening of passengers and their belongings [and]…acquisition, deployment, operation and maintenance of explosives detection systems.” Suzanne Perseo, a CATSA spokesperson, informed me that on top of these other duties, “the security of the travelling public is CATSA’s top priority.” As such, random selection helps to ensure “the highest standards of security…[while building] unpredictability in the screening process.”
At the Edmonton International Airport, the area in which random selections, scans, and metal detectors are located is referred to as “central security.” This busy airport has seen a 40% increase in air travellers in the past twelve months.
A graph showing Canada’s top five busiest airports by total passengers in 2022. (Claire Buisseret/Flourish)
Just this past month, 784,588 travellers have passed through Edmonton’s central security. According to Edmonton International Airport statistics, Alberta’s capital is home to the fifth busiest airport in the country.
A graph showing the difference in total passengers by month that visited the Edmonton International Airport in 2022 and 2023. (Claire Buisseret/Flourish)
As the holiday season approaches, the total number of passengers is bound to increase drastically. As a result, additional screening completed through random selections is imperative to the safety and security of the Edmonton International Airport, as well as the many aircraft and personnel that circulate through the airport every day.
When it comes to additional screening, a metal detector may come to mind, and while this is commonly used, there are also different forms of screening conducted at airports.
Typically, if you are not randomly selected for additional screening, your belongings will go through an X-ray machine to allow safety officers to observe what the passenger is attempting to bring aboard the aircraft and passengers are asked to walk through a metal detector.
Perseo reported that when a passenger and their belongings are randomly selected, the search is defined as anything “required in addition to the regular process.” Frequently, these extra steps entail a more thorough inspection completed by using a “hand-wand” metal detector, a physical search of both the passenger and their belongings, and a full body scan.
When it comes to travel, I am almost always selected to have my carry-on searched and asked to step into a heavy-duty full-body scanner for seemingly no reason. However, I have asked safety officers in the past, and they have informed me that I was selected because I was travelling alone and used a duffel bag rather than a carry-on-sized suitcase. This is highly subjective reasoning for a random selection, but it is something that I have learned to factor into my arrival time at the airport.
Recently, safety officers have begun wiping my carry-on, hands, waistband, and feet with a small device when I am in line to pass through security. This is called “swabbing,” which is used for explosive trace detection. In Canadian airports, passengers must undergo swabbing if they are randomly selected to do so; it is not a practice that can be refused. Officers will ask you to step out of the line for central security and escort you to an area off to the side where they will perform the additional screening.
Once you complete any additional screening and pass through the metal detector, barring any prohibited items or incidences, you can proceed to your gate.
Additional screening and random selections are not intended to alienate anyone in airports but rather to emphasize the importance of the security of air travel. If you are randomly selected for additional screening while in an airport, there is usually no reason for concern. Simply comply with the instructions given by the safety officer. While this can feel like a hassle or a waste of time, it is essential for keeping airports and air travel safe all around the world.