The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

The new international terminal at YYC Calgary International Airport has officially taken flight. While some slight turbulence has been experienced, travellers and officials are impressed with the $2 billion facility.

BODYYYC Photo-2The new international terminal celebrated it’s grand opening on Oct. 31, 2016 after years of construction at Calgary International Airport. Photo courtesy of Calgary Airport Authority Media Kit. The first flight departed Oct. 31 from the new international terminal that, according to a YYC fact sheet, features 24 international and domestic aircraft gates, along with 50 shops across five levels, an addition of two million square feet.

In 2015, the airport processed more than 15 million passengers. With this high amount of traffic, YYC Calgary Airport Authority felt it was necessary to reorganize how passengers flow through a terminal.

Thus far, they have had receptive feedback.

“Overwhelmingly we have heard that people are really enjoying the new facility and all of the new amenities that are associated with that and the new features that are really focused on streamlining their passenger experience,” says Sarah Urbanowski, manager of corporate communications at YYC.

Grant Gilchrist, an engineer with EnerNeX who travels frequently for work, is optimistic about the new terminal, but he has some concerns including the layout and placement of some aspects of the terminal.

The new call-to-gate system — YYC is the first airport in Canada to use this system — has raised some eyebrows. The purpose is that passengers wait in a central common area until their flight has been called to board, leaving no more than a five-minute walk to their gate.

BODYYYC Photo-3Calgary International Airport as viewed in the 1960s, over 55 years later, the new international terminal has now opened. Photo courtesy of Calgary Airport Authority Media Kit. Gilchrist, who has travelled over 24 separate times this year, questions how this option would work.

“What I saw was these long cattle stalls for people to stand in. There were some very comfy-looking seats nearby, but it didn’t look like there would be anywhere near the number of seats you would need to handle that many gates,” says Gilchrist.

The call-to-gate system reminded him of the London Heathrow Airport, which follows a similar method. However, Gilchrist is curious as to how the strategy will work when the traffic is heavier, something he has yet to experience first hand.

“It looked like there was enough seats for a small regional jet and yet there were enough gates in front of those seats... They could’ve had half a dozen regional jets or bigger ones, all going from the same gates,” says Gilchrist.

With less than 10 minutes travelling time and over 4,000 bags processed per hour, the system is state-of-the-art and is expected to foster a more reliable experience with checked baggage.

According to Urbanowski the central area is an inviting space full of screens that will show when boarding has been called and encourage passengers to move towards their gate

“It’s really intended to be a little more streamlined so you’re not waiting at the gate and that’s why there is not that much seating down there,” she says.

Urbanowski explains that soon people will get used to it: “It’s new and different... We’re currently working on some communication to staff that will help them understand that that’s how the process works.”

Another change from the previous international terminal that bothered Gilchrist was the immediate step into the duty-free shop upon moving past the U.S. customs gate.

It was a strange enough experience Gilchrist posted to Facebook and received comments back from friends that it reminded them of Disneyland.

“When you get out of U.S. customs, you have no choice but to go through duty-free shops. Previously you go beside it and you can get it if you want, but there was no way to get out the customs and into the rest of the terminal without going through the [duty-free] shops,” he says and adds: “That felt like capitalism out of control.”

Gilchrist did have ample positive feedback coming from the high ceilings and spacious areas. He also found the automated bin handling through security was something every airport should adopt.

“It really opens things up to being world class,” says Gilchrist and adds: “All the trends you see in the other terminals; they have definitely brought them home there.”

“We’ve introduced a number of new technologies. Firsts for Canadian airports, or even in North America. So there have been, of course, some new things and new processes that people are getting used to.” – Sarah Urbanowski.

One of the other most important agenda items for Gilchrist when travelling is paying attention to the food choices available in a terminal.

“One thing I have noticed from other airports is they try to give a flavour of the place you have arrived in,” Gilchrist says and adds: “It would be nice if they could make a deal with some of the local Calgary restaurants or something like that,” says Gilchrist.

Although this hasn’t happened yet – following in the footsteps of other world-class airports – YYC is celebrating many other milestones and firsts with the new terminal.

“We’ve introduced a number of new technologies. Firsts for Canadian airports, or even in North America. So there have been, of course, some new things and new processes that people are getting used to,” says Urbanowski.

Some of these new technologies include geothermal radiant floor heating and cooling to allow steady year-round temperatures.

"In just over two months, The Calgary Airport Authority will be opening our new International Terminal for U.S. and Internationally–bound passengers. Along with welcoming new guests, systems and processes, Calgary International Airport (YYC) is also introducing a variety of sustainable elements to reduce its environmental footprint. One such feature is geothermal energy, a system that will provide half the heating needs and all the cooling needs for the building, with the remaining heat provided by natural gas co-generation units." Video produced by Calgary International Airport.

There is also a rainwater collection and re-use system on the roof that will filter 800,000 litres of water to re-use for other purposes within the airport such as toilets.

Along with this there are more than 200 self-service kiosks for passengers checking in and attending to U.S. and Canadian customs.

One of the largest features is the new Crisbag Baggage Handling system, which allows each bag to be individually tracked as it moves through the terminal in its individual tote.

With less than 10 minutes travelling time and over 4,000 bags processed per hour, the system is state-of-the-art and is expected to foster a more reliable experience with checked baggage.

The Calgary airport will also have a new Connection Centre that permits most European and U.S. in-bound travellers to avoid rechecking baggage.

The YYC Link – 20 electric vehicles that seat up to 10 people – will also help travellers reach their gates via a ride through the Connections Corridor.

YYC LINK is Calgary International Airport's compact transit system custom-designed and proudly made in Canada! Watch it evolve from design concept to the first model. Video produced by Calgary International Airport.

Custom-built and designed in Canada, the shuttles are driven by the Customer Care ambassadors – part of the new initiative to accompany White Hat volunteers and Curbside ambassadors to educate and assist all passengers in reaching their final destination.

WestJet, whose headquarters are located in northeast Calgary, is enthusiastic about this new infrastructure.

bodyunspecifiedPhoto courtesy of YYC.Lauren Stewart, media relations advisor at WestJet, explains how this benefits the company: “It allows us to look at the future and know that we can grow out of Calgary,” Stewart says.

“We just launched our flights to London Gatwick this past spring. It gives us the ability to bring in to expand that wide body service out of the Calgary airport because as it stood before this, it was getting spots and space and guests. It was very crowded and is definitely good for WestJet”

Even amidst the economic downturn, the airline’s fleet size has increased and plans for further expansion into Europe and Asia become possible with Calgary airport’s development.

“The airport is a big piece of that because we need the space to bring in these bigger aircraft,” says Stewart.

BODYunspecified2YYC arrivals level. Photo courtesy of YYC.The increasing growth of WestJet and other airlines was a big push for the completion of the terminal. It had been an adjustment period upon the grand opening, but everything has gone smoothly in their eyes thus far.

“It’s going to take people awhile in terms of the guests to get accustomed to where they need to go,” says Stewart and adds: “It’s a whole new world in that terminal, but we’re definitely making good efforts to ensure that they’re communicated to and that they understand the changes that are being made.”

While there will always be a few negative comments, the airport authority is determined to make their systems work and thinks eventually patrons will view them as positive changes.

“The facility itself is really reflective of the city and the region that we serve,” says Urbanowski and adds: “We have always been a connecting hub, but it will definitely make us more attractive.”

The YYC Calgary International Airport fact sheet claims the airport contributes more than $8 billion in GDP to the local economy, employs over 24,000 people and even added an extra 2,000 jobs with the new terminal.

“I think that it positions us and our partners for great future growth. The innovative new systems are really reflective of a city that is very innovative and forward thinking,” says Urbanowski.

Even veteran traveller Gilchrist is ultimately impressed.

“I’m just very happy about it.”

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The editor responsible for this article is Ingrid Mir and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.