Airports: Modern-day temples, paid for by you

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Egypt has its pyramids, built to help steward the pharaohs to their respective places in the afterlife. Louis XIV of France had the Palace of Versailles, built, expanded and rebuilt pretty much because, well, Louis could do it, even if that sort of extravagance helped trigger the French Revolution.

What do we have?

Well, perhaps in Canada, we have our airports.

I wonder if the World Parkway in St. John’s is what the Canadian government had in mind when it first brought in Canada’s not-for-profit airport authorities: the parkway, a gentle, looping cut through the scrub spruce trees that adds 900 metres of extra road and $1.25 to every taxi trip out to the airport, is just one of the airport’s latest additions.

Even its name is a sort of tip-off about the airport: it’s not cutesy Runway Lane or lowly Airport Road. World Parkway? It’s amazing you don’t have to pass under a 50-foot high celebratory archway — a 50-foot archway that, by the way, you’d have to pay for.

Why? Because you pay for everything at the airport. Want to complain about the taxi fees from the airport back into town? Well, the fees are high because the airport auctions off the right to put cabs at the airport, and collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. The airport’s also charging airlines for landing fees, money chunked right onto the cost of flying. Ever wonder why even an airport bottle of water costs so much? It’s not because the bottler is gouging you, let’s put it that way.

The big part of the airport costs, though, are the airport improvement fees. Right now, our already-fancy airport charges you $20 every time you fly out of the city. In just six days, that fee will rise to $30, a 50 per cent increase needed to finance the next raft of top-end improvements.

Just another cost of doing business, right? Well, 1.5 million passengers traipse through the terminal right now. Do the math.

And while you are settling into your airplane seat, delighted with how much thinner and more comfortable your wallet is, stop and think about this: across the country, there are a whole raft of airports charging their own fees and building their own empires every bit as fast as our local cash cow has fattened itself up.

In Halifax, there’s a brand new, soaring glass multi-storey check-in area with acres of empty loud luxurious stone flooring and a $25 fee for every passenger who passes through it. Just be glad you’re not paying the plane’s fees.

Land a 215-seat 737-900 in Halifax just once, and you’d be looking at $494.38 in landing fees, $591.66 in terminal fees, $743.90 in passenger security fees, common use passenger processing fees and common use facility fees and $80 for the privilege of using the airport bridge to let passengers off the plane. (Many of the fees apply per seat, but that’s whether they’re full or empty.)

Good thing you don’t have to pay that, too, hey? Except you do — right there in your ticket. Ponder that while you are waiting for your luggage in the Halifax arrivals area, where, as in almost every major Canadian airport, you can hear both passenger announcements and the endless rattle of construction jackhammers.

Ottawa? Well, hey, what airport would be complete without an indoor waterfall? That’s right — it has a waterfall. And from its departures area, you can look out over the scattered few check-in staff while you wait in line and see a vast acreage of empty space falling away in front of you, standing there in an aerie up over the heads of the arriving passengers and the customer concourse.

The Ottawa airport’s website lauds its own architecture and design success. The price of the view from up there on Mount Departure? In Ottawa, a mere $23 per departing passenger. Plus every other applicable fee.

Calgary’s got a new runway and a four-star airport hotel this year. Edmonton’s airport is testing customer service robots with television-screen human faces. (“The customer service robots are the first of their kind in Canada. They’re designed to interact with people, as well as detect and display emotions. The robots can not only give you directions, but actually take you where you need to go. And they have the potential to do so in 30 different languages,” says Global News.) The robots, by the way, last appeared as guest hosts on the red carpet at the Oscars. Seriously.

Calgary? $30. Edmonton? $30.

And on and on it goes. Every other business in this country is using buzzwords like “right-sizing.” Our major airport authorities are only into super-sizing — and it’s no wonder passengers have indigestion.

In this case, not-for-profit has just become a licence to spend every single dime that comes through the door, and to set your own monopoly price tag for customers in the process.

World Parkway? How about the Hubris Highway?

Louis XIV would love it. And really, that says it all.

Russell Wangersky is news editor of the St. John’s Telegram. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Oscars

Geographic location: Canada, Egypt, France Versailles World Parkway Halifax Ottawa Edmonton Mount Departure Calgary

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