Inside the New YWG

We were supposed to be passengers — but we acted like tourists.

I had the good fortune recently to receive an invitation to be one of more than 1,000 Winnipeggers to participate in Saturday’s dress rehearsal for the opening of the new Winnipeg airport terminal. After checking in on the lower level, I waited anxiously for my group — Wave 8, denoted by our blue folders — to be escorted into the new terminal building to assume our randomly assigned mock identities. My job was to play the role of “Pam McDavidtest”, departing for Thunder Bay on WestJet 4855 and returning on a flight from Toronto.

YWG check-in area

First stop was at the WestJet check-in kiosk to collect my boarding pass. Even though I’m usually fairly proficient with a check-in kiosk, a WestJet agent helped me with the task, clearly having as much fun as I was.

Unlike the old Winnipeg airport terminal, where each airline had dedicated desk space, the new terminal appears to offer much more flexibility to reassign counters from one airline to another as needs change, as indicated by the monitors above each check-in station. At the same time, each kiosk can be used to check in for any of the four major airlines serving Winnipeg — Air Canada, WestJet, Delta or United.

A couple of things stand out about this area. First, the washrooms are not particularly easy to find, as they are concealed behind the check-in counters and located at the far end of the hall. Second, Winnipeg has clearly learned from other airports the importance of placing the bulk of restaurants and amenities in the secure area of the airport (à la  Minneapolis/St. Paul). This will avoid the common complaint heard about many other airports of there being little in the way of food or beverage options post-security.

YWG post-security

After checking in, it’s time to head off to the left and go through security. The security machines haven’t been set up yet, so the real test of how well the system works will be when the terminal opens for real on Oct. 30.

After clearing security, the one thing missing (or perhaps just not installed yet) are departure monitors if you want to reconfirm your flight’s gate or departure status. Turn left toward Gate 7 and check the monitors near there if you need to. Or if you need to put your belt back on and refill your pockets, there’s a little lounge area  you can retreat to, out of the way of other passengers.

YWG Gate 8

YWG Gate 9 area

Here we are — checked in, cleared through security and now at the gate. At the old Winnipeg airport, you almost expected to run into Dracula from time to time thanks to the ’60s-style Brutalist architecture which kept outside light to a minimum. By contrast, the new terminal has floor to ceiling windows, allowing in plenty of natural light.

Departure area amenities include a convenience store, a T.G.I. Friday’s, a Gondola Pizza and a Tim Horton’s outlet near Gate 9.

The carpeted floors might be a bit of a challenge over time, as carpets need more intensive maintenance to keep in good condition and to prevent bubbles from forming in places where the underlying glue has become ineffective.

One thing I was glad to see was that the departure lounge wasn’t littered with blaring TV sets. This will be a welcome change from the usual noise-polluted airport experience, and is reminiscent of the “quiet airport” policy enforced by some New Zealand airports.

YWG washroom

Let’s take a quick look at the washroom while we’re here. No sign here of any mischievous family-values politicians giving new meaning to the phrase “making a connection”.

YWG U.S. pre-clearance area

Let’s backtrack to the other end of the terminal, where we find a boarding area equipped with movable glass walls. Based on the closed corridor separating arriving and departing passengers, it appears as though this will be the boarding area for flights departing to the U.S. Like many other major Canadian airports, Winnipeg offers U.S. Customs and Border Patrol pre-clearance, permitting most flights from Canada to arrive at domestic gates in the U.S., freeing up the scarcer supply of international gates for other aircraft.

YWG baggage claim area

Alright, let’s go down to the baggage claim area with its distinctive polka-dot lights. Very nice indeed.

At about this point, I threw caution to the wind and slipped past a “Do Not Enter” sign and found myself in the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) secondary inspection area. A few of us checked out the inspection desks and the tiny interrogation rooms where you’ll end up if your inspection goes really badly.  But I don’t have any pictures to show you, unfortunately, as a CBSA officer walked in and pleasantly asked that we refrain from taking pictures in that particular area, even though it’s still very much under construction.

Though I’ll be the first to admit that the relationship between CBSA and the travelling public has been strained at times from both parties’ point of view, I still adhere to the idea that Rule #1 for any traveler should be Don’t screw around with Customs and Immigration. So, no photo.

YWG arrivals level exit

Finally, it’s time to leave the terminal via the lower-level Arrivals hall. Hotel shuttle pickups are just outside the door — but there’s no sign yet of where Winnipeg Transit buses will stop. (Or will that be upstairs, at the departures level?)

Overall, an attractive and easy-to-navigate new terminal that will give travelers much of what they’ve come to expect from an airport.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

6 Responses to Inside the New YWG

  1. W. Krawec says:

    Thanks for the tour – it’s interesting to see what the new terminal will look like. From what I can tell, it appears that the YWG passenger experience will remain fundamentally the same as it is now with a fairly compact and easy-to-navigate terminal, except with more modern surroundings and much better food and retail options post-security.

    What I’d really be interested in knowing is whether the new terminal will have any impact on the selection of direct flights from Winnipeg. It seems as though AC’s offerings are dwindling down to three CRJs a day for most cities except the YYZ/YYC hubs, and our selection of direct flights to the US (MSP, ORD, DEN and LAS) is the same as Regina and Saskatoon’s. It would be nice to see at least a couple new routes established as a direct benefit of the new terminal.

  2. Xtoval says:

    2 Questions: is there a good supply of electric outlets in the waiting area? Most airports now scrambling to install recharging posts. Usually very hard to plug in your laptop and do work while waiting for a flight or recharge your phone.

    Is there no high-end restaurant? TGIFs as good as it gets? It probably doesn’t matter much because YWG is not a transfer point. But if you have to wait an hour or two between flights, as Wpgers often do in ORD, MSP or DEN, a nice quiet restaurant/bar option is welcome.

  3. theviewfromseven says:

    I wouldn’t expect a tremendous change from what we have today. There might be the odd route or flight that wasn’t viable before because of a lack of suitable gate space during the early morning and early evening peak periods that will become viable now, but that’s about it.

    American Eagle service to American Airlines’ Chicago hub might be worth going after, now that AA is in a relationship with WestJet. American briefly served Winnipeg in the ’90s using mainline Fokker F100s, when they were a minority owner of Canadian Airlines.

    There has been talk for years that Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary wanted to take his ultra-low-fare concept into the longhaul market. Nothing has ever come of it, but if something came to fruition, Winnipeg might at least warrant a market study given the lack of nonstops to Europe and the appeal of being able to go overseas for $49 (plus taxes, plus $50 for your boarding pass if you don’t print it yourself, plus $10 credit card network fee, plus $1 to use the lav…)

    Where we will probably see an improvement in service is in terms of replacing two-stop itineraries with one-stop itineraries as the planemakers start producing aircraft that combine widebody range with narrowbody seat capacity, and as WestJet partners with more global carriers. Possible new one-stop routes could include Winnipeg-Vancouver-Melbourne, Winnipeg-Chicago-Cape Town and Winnipeg-Toronto-Berlin. This won’t have as much to do with the new terminal as with improvements in aircraft design and fuel efficiency.

  4. Jim Burnside says:

    To bad the flight volumes do not dictate those flights and other destinations

  5. theviewfromseven says:

    That’s a good point. I never thought to check for that, but perhaps someone else visiting this blog knows the answer.

    I found a list from 2009 of retailers that were offered concessions in the new terminal. If I recall correctly, T.G.I. Fridays was about as good as it got at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, at least when I was there in 2002.

    http://www.waa.ca/media/news/read,article/573/winnipeg-airports-authority-inc-names-concession-for-new-air-terminal-building

  6. Sheepish says:

    Thanks for the commentary. I think the WAA needs to work at becoming more of a hub for one of the airlines…perhaps if AC launches its discount airline. This will give us more choices, and ensure the amenities are well used.
    It must also stop the bleeding with travelers using GFK.
    The new airport looks great; the question is how well will it be used.

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