Edmonton International Airport positioning itself as new Northwestern air hub

Increased Northern air traffic, a strong Albertan economy and flexible tranfers to US destinations are all likely to make Edmonton International…

Increased Northern air traffic, a strong Albertan economy and flexible tranfers to US destinations are all likely to make Edmonton International Airport the next major airline hub for Northwestern Canada.

Last week, the airport announced the launch of US Quick Connect, a new program designed to make passenger transfers between Canadian and US destinations easier.

Before, passengers connecting to US destinations through Edmonton were forced to claim their baggage and check in a second time with their airlines before going through US customs.

US Quick Connect circumvents this process, allowing passengers to directly transfer between Canadian and US connector flights — with the transfer of their luggage being managed by the Edmonton airport.

“The way it was before, a family of four would have to go through the arrivals area, wait at the carousel for their bags, go back upstairs, line up and recheck in again,” said airport president and CEO Reg Milley.

“We think you can now connect in about seven minutes, a conservative estimate being that would be that it saves half an hour of transfer time,” said airport spokesperson Tracy Bedmard.

It’s a small change — and a cheap one at only $1 million — but it presents the opportunity for the expanding Edmonton airport to take on more standing airlines and passengers.

Edmonton has quickly risen as the hub of choice for northern passengers en route to destinations in Eastern Canada or the lower 48 states.

Since 2006, Edmonton International Airport has seen a 75 per cent increase in passenger numbers from Alaska and the Canadian North, as well as a 50 per cent overall increase to connecting traffic — a stunning feat in an industry increasingly wracked by higher fuel costs and plummeting passenger numbers.

The Geneva-based International Air Transport Association estimates that the global airline industry stands to incur $2.5 billion in losses in 2009.

“We face the worst revenue environment in 50 years,” said association president Giovanni Bisignani last Wednesday.

In Edmonton, the troubles of global air travel are a distant concern.

“We have a higher growth rate than any other major airport in Canada, and I would dare say, in North America,” said Milley.

Industrial and economic growth have played their part to boost the airport’s numbers, but Milley stresses that it is the airport’s commitment to airline and passenger convenience that has allowed it to pull in traffic that would normally have flown through other western hubs, such as Calgary or Vancouver.

Just recently, Air Canada scheduled an increased number of direct flights between Edmonton and London, England.

The new program means happier airline customers, as well as significant monetary savings — since companies are relieved the hassle of twice having to check in passenger baggage.

With plummeting financial stability, good service is increasingly disappearing within the modern air travel industry.

When the Edmonton Airport went through a comprehensive re-branding last year it broke convention by positioning service as a top priority.

The first step was identifying airlines and passengers as partners, rather than liabilities, said Milley.

Passengers and airlines were actively canvassed for ideas to streamline Edmonton transfer processes.

Border security concerns in the wake of 2001’s September 11th attacks have hugely increased wait times at US customs stations, complained customers — prompting Edmonton airport officials to identify ways to mitigate the growing phenomenon of airport delays.

Milley praises US Quick Connect as one step towards reducing the inevitable stresses of modern air travel.

“Going through an airport is a series of stressful processes, and every time you can eliminate one of those processes it makes the experience all the better,” he said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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