I have landed—and an anecdote about Canadian airport security

May 16, 2014 • 7:28 am

I am now in Kamloops, and the Imagine No Religion 4 conference begins today with a buffet dinner at 5 and then a panel at 7 pm on free will, where Professor Ceiling Cat will expound his controversial views on incompatibilism.

I’m told that last year the host of this year’s free will panel, philosopher Chris DiCarlo, gave his own argument about free will (I believe that he’s a hard determinist like me), and Dan Dennett got up during the question session and spent the whole 20 minutes attacking DiCarlo’s views. (Dennett, of course, is a compatibilist who has confected a view of human free will that is, to me, unconvincing.) I believe we’ll have a libertarian free-willer on this year’s panel. Tomorrow I talk on theology and science.

The schedule of talks for the conference looks great and refreshingly drama-less.

The weather is lovely, as is this small town. I flew from Chicago to Calgary (3.5 hours), and the following 1.25-hour hop on a propeller plane from Calgary to Kamloops took us right over the Canadian Rockies and several other mountain ranges. It was lovely and clear; here is one of many pictures I took from my window seat:


But I must relate something that happened to me at the Calgary airport.

Our plane was late from Chicago because of storm delays, and when I got to Calgary I found that I had to not only clear Canadian customs, but also go through another security check before getting on the plane to Kamloops. Because of that, and the confusing directions I got to security, I was late. By the time I got to security, there was a line of about fifty people waiting to have their bags x-rayed and bodies checked, and the checking was SLOW. They let in about one person every two minutes, and, at the end of the line, I realized that at that rate I would miss my plane.

For the first time in my life, I decided to try to jump the queue. I went to its head and asked the woman in charge (a member of what I guess is the Canadian equivalent of the TSA) if I could go ahead, as I was due at the gate in five minutes. I also showed her my boarding pass on which, at check-in, they’d written: “Be at gate at 2:00.” It was about 1:56.

She fixed me with a peremptory gaze and said, “Sorry, sir, there’s nothing I can do for you. You’ll have to get back in line.”

I slinked to the rear of the line again, finding my place, and fretted. But, watching the line’s slow progress, I wasn’t happy, and decided to try again. In five minutes I went back to the head of the line and literally begged the woman to let me through.

She gave me the same response, “Sorry, sir, there’s nothing I can do.” In other words, she’d rather make me miss my plane than allow me the courtesy of going ahead.

Determined not to give up, I turned around, addressed the first guy in line and asked him, “Excuse me, sir, but I’m about to miss my plane. Do you mind if I go ahead of you?”  He said, “Sure!”

Happy that I had succeeded, I stood at the head of the line and waited my turn. But the Canadian official told me this: “Not so fast. You have to ask permission from everybody who was in line ahead of you.

I was stunned. Really? For a second I sort of understood, for if you jump a queue you’re really going ahead of everyone, not just the first person in line, and Canadians are famous for their politeness in queues:


But at this point I wasn’t about to admit defeat. I walked all the way down the line, waving my boarding pass and shouting repeatedly, “I’m going to be late; does anybody mind if I go ahead of them?”  No passenger objected.

At that point the Candian-TSA woman let me through. But screening was still slow, and I barely made my plane.

For a while I was just amused at what I thought was a vivid demonstration of the famous Canadian politeness (see cartoon above). But the more I think about it, the more I’m peeved that an official would rather have me miss my plane than go to the head of the line (something that is regularly allowed in the U.S. for late passengers). And it was a bit humiliating to have to walk that line asking everyone to let me pass.

I’m asking Canadian readers: is this normal behavior? Or was I simply the victim of an officious official who didn’t like what she saw as an obnoxious and pushy American?

123 thoughts on “I have landed—and an anecdote about Canadian airport security

  1. I’m an Australian living in Europe and if I had to do this I’d ask everyone ahead of me in line.
    Just last month I was in Italy and there was someone who did just this to get to the front of the line because they thought they would miss their plane.

    1. I’ve spent time in Europe also, and haven’t seen anywhere that does queuing as well as Australians do. This is just an observation, I don’t have a theory about it.

      1. Living in Canada & having visited Australia & queued in both places, I’d say they are about the same.

        I got angry at a group of Chinese visitors in Australia who were trying to sneak in front of everyone in a queue to a boat. The officials explained to them that they had to wait in line.

      2. I would agree that we do queue quite well most of the time, but not all the time.
        Last Sunday I landed in Sydney from Perth and was waiting in a very long taxi queue and this group of people joined the line halfway down the queue snake.
        Having a significant amount of false bravado in the tank, I started grumbling to my immediate neighbours with the main response being ‘ I don’t want to get involved’.
        So without any chance of backup,I yelled at them that the back of the line was way way back behind me.
        In their defence, they did then move to the back but as they passed said that they didn’t know where it was which is complete bollocks.

  2. Canuckistanian here. Depends on where you are in Canada. In Toronto, for instance, they will *likely* help you get to your plane on time, esp if you show them the boarding pass and explain what happened. That’s just a question of keeping things moving and the huge throughput of Pearson Airport.

  3. I am not what you would call a frequent flyer, but a few times I have seen security screeners in Toronto go down the line looking for people who are in danger of missing a flight and move them up the line. On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to apologize for an official who was presumably having a bad day.

  4. Definitely an individual thing – a polite request with boarding card evidence usually works just fine.

  5. Contact the airline – I think they need to have a talk with that woman. If you missed yours and the next flight was full, they’d have to ask if anyone was willing to be bumped so you could get on, and they ought, anyway, to want to minimize that kind of thing.

    1. Doubtful that ‘the airline’ has any jurisdiction over that lady.
      And if they just friendly ask her, I’m sure she will politely refer to some ‘rule’ that she’s not allowed to give anyone preferential treatment.

  6. It might be a bit humiliating, and the situation was rather urgent, so she behaved kind of impolite, and I’m on your side, but… and really BUT, she made a point which always bothers me – you should always ask the whole queue, not the first person only. In fact, you go ahead of everybody and thus everybody will wait longer, not the first person only. And the first one in the queue isn’t a representative of the queue.

    1. I’m probably a rude Canadian. I would just go to the front and explain and I wouldn’t ask anyone else. But I am from on Ontario. 😛

    2. And the first one in the queue isn’t a representative of the queue.

      I think a case can be made that he is.

      Jerry was traveling in a foreign land, and asked the nearest native — the first guy in the queue — if it would be OK to cut in line. And the guy said “Sure!” If that guy thought it likely that the other Canadians behind him would object, then as a polite Canadian he presumably wouldn’t have said that. So I think we can trust his judgment that in that situation, a typical Canadian would not object.

      1. I would absolutely agree with that.

        “Ask everybody in the queue” just sounds like an excuse thought up on the spot by on obstructive bloody-minded petty official who should be sacked instantly and never permitted to hold any position of authority over anyone else ever again.

        (Does it sound like I hate petty bureaucracy?)

  7. I live in Calgary and I side with the inspector. A Canadian would rather miss a flight than be so obnoxious as to push ahead of 50 other people. When the folks in line heard your accent, they undoubtedly shrugged and thought to themselves “So typical, eh?” We have a system that works, as you point out nicely in the Lemming cartoon.

    You might be interested to know that when polled about their religious preference, Canadians almost always ask the poller what their religion is (80% of us are uncommitted) and then they say, “Put me down for the same.” Skews the heck out of every poll.

    Glad they let you – even with your pushy abrasive attitude. :>)

    BTW – You have a great book.

    1. Have to ask, if your countrymen and women skew the polls; how do you know it is as high as 80%?

      1. Grania – I don’t. The point is we are rather spineless when it comes to taking a stand on irreligion. Let us just say that 4 out of my 5 friends would say “uncommitted.” You might also extrapolate from the American deep south, heading north towards Vermont and Oregon and find there is an exponential decrease in gullibility. By the time you reach Canada, religious fever is somewhat, um, “frozen.”

    2. This sort of defies common sense. What you are basically saying, unless I’m completely misunderstanding you, is that Canadians (in your experience) are such slavish rule-followers that they cannot bend the rules to assist someone whom they can very easily help, and who is in serious need through no fault of their own. (I guess you could assume everyone is lying about their reason for being late.) This doesn’t fit with my impression of Canadians. I remember hearing several introduce themselves in varous places around the globe; and when asked, “what’s a Canadian?”, reply “well, sort of like a nice American.” I couldn’t argue with that (as a USian.)

      Seems to me that the “after you” attitude in the cartoon would say that the queue would generally be very happy to let someone cut in line for a real need.

      I have run into situations where it was simply: Your bad planning is not my emergency. But this was clearly not the case in this instance.

      I would happily let someone through who was genuinely late through no fault of their own — we’ve all had to run through airports to try to make a connection. I’ve had them tell me “we’re closing the door” and refuse me entry on a connection (they were late departing the first airport, not me) and watched the plane sit there for another 20 minutes.

          1. A lot of people think Canada is part of America because of “North America”. A friend had Italian relatives say this to him, to which he replied, “yeah but so is Mexico”.

          2. Indeed it is!! We Mexicans consider ourselves “Americans” in the sense that for us (and for the rest of Latinamerica as well) the American continent extends from Canada to Chile. This is what people in the US and Canada call “the Americas”, but for us it is just “America” and anyone living in it is an American. We never refer to citizens of the US as Americans. It is actually frowned upon to do it, since we consider ourselves “americanos” in the “continental” sense. Geographically, for us, an argentinian, a peruvian, a surinamese or a brazilian are all “americans”.

          3. In a formal setting the term used would be “estadounidenses”, which literally means citizens of the United States (no mention of the “America” part); that’s the term that a newscaster would use, for example. In more colloquial setting people will use “gringo”, which I must make very clear is not meant in any way to be pejorative or negative.

          4. Can’t agree with that. Most mexicans use “gringo” or “americano”.
            Frowned upon? Where?

      1. Sorry JBlilie – my entry was meant as cheek-in-tongue. You are right about everything you wrote. Except the part “we’ve all had to run through an airport…” I use a wheelchair. I sometimes have to roll vigorously through the airport.

    3. You’d rather miss a flight than ask to go ahead of the line? That’s bizarre. Would you also force someone else to miss her flight rather than cut ahead of you? That’s very inconsiderate. I think you have your priorities mixed up.

      1. pacopicopiedra – You are right, my priorities are mixed up, according to some people. But I would not “force someone to miss her [his] flight” – nor did the 50 or so others in the line. They all consented, didn’t they? Neither they nor I would be so inconsiderate as to delay someone who asked. However, we wouldn’t ask if we ourselves were running late. (Perhaps 7 other people in the line were also late for their connector.)

    4. As a fellow Canadian I have to tell you that this intentional poll-skewing is not a thing I’m familiar with.

    5. Well I am not Canadian but while I agree that tis does affect ALL those in front of you, it is the ridiculous officiousness of moronic ‘security’ which rankles with me. It is hysteria to be so security obsessed. They probably then miss the bleedin’ obvious threats. Oh for the pre-Great War days when there were no passports & not ‘security’… sadly not likely to return! 😉

      1. I wish we could go back, too. Canada has scrambled to enact every security suggestion made by the USA and even go further than asked. It is pretty sad.

          1. Because the US wouldn’t allow us to fly in their airspace without such measures in place. There was a fear that terrorists would come into Canada after the US and that if Canadian measures were not up to these same standards, there would be an incident.

          2. infiniteimprobabilit – After 9-11, the USA ambassador to Canada stated Bush’s position that unless Canada enact the same security and ‘law-and-order’ programs as the USA, business across the border would grind to a halt as the US would examine every single item entering the country. When Canada refused to join the Iraq-attack, the US did exactly that, briefly resulting in line-ups at the border stretching 5 kilometres and truckers taking three days to get across. Cross-border trade is incredibly important to Canada (a little less so to the States), so we now have American-style airport security.

          3. Border states were displeased as well. Canada is America’s biggest trading partner and anything done to Canada, trade wise, hurts them.

          4. It must suck being where you are geographically. Where I am (New Zealand) I have a choice when flying to Europe of going east via the US or west via Australia or Asia – it’s equidistant. I find the choice easy to make – TSA or TSA-free?

          5. Pierre Trudeau, a popular Canadian Prime Minister, and the one I grew up under, famously said about the US:

            Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.

  8. I’ve been in common check-in lines several times where a member of the airline staff walks along the queue asking if passengers are on certain flights (imminently departing) and then brings them to the front. I don’t recall seeing anything similar at security lines though.

    1. I have seen that in security lines at several airports in Europe and North America, including Boston where I was one of the passengers in danger of missing their flight.


    2. I have seen this at security lines when it is VERY busy. I have also been asked by people if they could go ahead of me when they are taking off soon. I have also been on delayed flights where an airport worker has been waiting to ensure that connecting passengers get through security (usually by opening additional security points).
      Hope the rest of your trip to Canada is trouble free!

  9. As a Canadian who has lived in many provinces, I can assure you that queue-jumping is widely held to be extremely bad manners (convincing Canadian drivers to use the zipper method for going around a blocked lane, for example, seems doomed to failure regardless of demonstrated fairness and efficiency for just this reason).

    I am impressed that the security agent insisted that you get permission from all the passengers in the line ahead of you before butting into line (also called ‘budging’ and worthy of a strict reprimand starting in Kindergarten for school line-ups throughout the country) because it’s easy to forget when stressed that almost everyone has a good reason for wanting to clear security in a timely manner; feeling that yours is more important by assumption is where the bad manners might apply. It’s perfectly understandable you don’t want to miss your flight and I’m glad you found a way to both make your flight and not be rude about it. One way to look at it is that the agent offered you a way to do both.

    Having said all that, I have noticed that the smaller the airport (and Calgary is not all that small), the more stringent are the security procedures applied by these agents. I pity the chances of some terrorist trying to get past Berta at the Nanaimo airport, for example, where each lipstick container and the shoes of octogenarians is checked inside and out. Knitting needles and nail scissors don’t stand a chance. I suspect the transparent bin of what Berta considers disallowed items confiscated at the security gate and placed where the line of boarding passenger must go around it as they approach security is a source of deep pride for Berta… not just to keep filled on a typical day but overflowing on a really good one.

    We’re all peeved at Canadian airport security and the problems it causes slowing down the movement of people just trying to get somewhere. Your Calgary experience makes you one of us, but don’t be surprised if the Kamloops airport security makes Calgary look like an express lane. Be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t.

    1. I don’t think that I was being obnoxious; I’ve always avoided doing this but was simply doing what is normal practice in the U.S., where it’s not considered rude. People regularly rush to the head of lines when they’re late, and if they have a good reason nobody beefs. If there’s a cultural difference, I don’t think it’s fair to impute that to me being obnoxious, for if I’d known that this was normal practice in Canada, I would have asked everyone beforehand.

      1. I travel quite a bit in Canada and going to the front is normal – as long as you are legitimately late according to the boarding pass(as you were). I see this all the time, and normally gate agents walk the line actively asking people if they are boarding at such and such a time, so as to streamline the queue.

        What you did was normal the problem was the grumpy agent.


      2. Jerry, I wasn’t implying you were being obnoxious at all; I was simply trying to explain as a Canadian – because you asked – why doing what you did could be considered ‘rude’ without asking the permission from all those affected to be exempted from the usual queuing. I would have been shocked – shocked! – if anyone in that line-up had not waved you ahead… unless they, too, had an equally pressing reason. (After all, most Canadians like to be nice when given the opportunity… but they need to be given the opportunity and not have their permission taken for granted.)

        To be clear, it would have been a far greater social faux pas for someone to hold you up without equally or more compelling reasons. Security (the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority – CATSA – is responsible for air security including pre-board passenger and baggage security screening at all Canadian Airports and have nothing whatsoever to do with facilitating the passengers of all the different airlines) is charged with having that reason and so it’s not rude for the agent to refuse to privilege you; that’s up to those in the line you are momentarily inconveniencing.

        The same is true at any checkout counter where the onus is on the paying customer to make sure that he or she is not inconveniencing someone who has been there longer. Not doing this is considered ‘rude’ even if there is zero intention to be so. And I know your intention was pure.

        1. Oh, and I think the agent could have handled this much better by stepping in on your behalf and asking the passengers in the line if you could be go ahead. I’ve seen this happen several times and not once has anyone made any issue of it. I have also seen this done by observant and caring agents for people who exhibit discomfort in the line; it’s not just the elderly who may have health issues or people running to make a connection who could use some help rather than the application of strict rules – social or legislated.

      3. It has been said of us Brits that when two or more of us get together we form a queue and certainly we get tetchy when people barge in. However, I think people are generally happy to let someone in to a queue ahead of them if asked politely and if a reasonable explanation is given as to why. Most people understand that when trying to make a connecting flight your lateness is usually do to factors outside your control.

        A somewhat different question is why it is necessary to go through a security check at all when you are connecting from one flight to another, having remained ‘airside’ at the connecting airport. Unless you went out of the airside zone, where exactly were you supposed to have had the chance to acquire dangerous weapons between the security check in Chicago and the one in Calgary? I know that this happens in most countries but it is hard to see the sense.

    2. Odd that you should mention security at Nanaimo. I live near Nanaimo. I do a lot of photography, and I travel with the same camera bag I use when hiking. When I’m hiking I carry a 5″ flip out hunting knife that gets stored in the bag between times. Unbeknownst to me, the knife had slipped between the bag and the padded liner just before I flew Nanaimo/Vancouver/Calgary/New York a while back. I cleared security in both Nanaimo and Calgary with the knife in the bag. Discovered it while in NY and put in the checked luggage for return trip. Not reassuring security-wise.

      On the original question of Jerry’s situation, I can think of no reason a passenger in that situation should need to ask everyone’s permission, and I can’t imagine the level of self-absorption required to be resentful of someone needing to hurry through. My bet is that these are the same people who drive slowly in the left lane – total lack of consideration or empathy.

      1. There’s a commercial airport in Nanaimo? I wish I’d known that sooner. I used to have a girlfriend there, and when I went to see her, it was either fly into Vancouver and catch a seaplane to Nanaimo, or fly into Victoria and have her come down and get me. Mind you, that was over a decade ago.

    3. Airport security is for the poor. Passengers arriving in a chartered jet go directly through. (at Nanaimo) This is after 911. How does that fit with the Canadian politeness?

      1. As a gold member with Virgin Australia I can use their priority security line at Sydney airport. It’s often a false economy though because I’m usually the only one in the line which means I always get the explosives check.

  10. She actually put herself on the spot by giving a command that though she may have thought would not be followed, you did do exactly what she asked with positive results. Too cool btw. 🙂

    I wonder if this experience will modify the official’s future behavior — hopefully she would let such a reasonable demand the next time around be allowed from the get go.

  11. I think something is wrong with the water in Calgary. 😀

    We’re polite all over Canada, but that’s just plain dumb and unhelpful of the line-minder, because Prof. Ceiling Cat was going to be late for the plane, and **everything** would have been in chaos after that. Once the first guy you asked said yes, that should’ve been the end of that.

  12. From Vancouver.

    A bit of both really. Canadians tend towards being both self-servingly apologetic and churlish when confronted. My countrymen are shown at their worst in the official and at their best in those in the line. Sorry Jerry.

    1. I used to live in Seattle and crossed the border at the Peace Arch Park all the time. From my experience: The Canadian Customs folks were always friendly, polite, and pleasant. And their main concern was guns (fair enough!).

      The US people, on the other hand, were often officious and obnoxious. It was highly variable of course; but the Canadians won the pleasantness contest, hands down.

  13. This makes me think about driving down a busy street here in Denver yesterday. I had the opportunity to leave space while stopped at a red light so someone could turn right in a situation where traffic is backed up for a long time. It is one of those small courtesies that people do that takes very little effort but really helps someone out. I could have thought this guy can just wait his turn. I thought about how nice it is when someone lets me in when they don’t have to. It is not something you have to over think, you just do. I didn’t think that the person behind me had to be consulted.
    I think the agent is there to make decisions that allow people in unique circumstances to pass. We give people that kind of authority and it should not be subject to mob rule. I think it is nice when people get a say but it sounds like this was a time sensitive situation.

  14. I disagree with Smokedpaprika, and really agree with Dariusz, everybody is having somebody go ahead of them in the queue, so not not ask everyone would be considered rude here in the UK too and I think asking everyone is the right thing to do.
    We all love Professor Ceiling Cat and are glad he got his flight but I’m glad the whole queue was asked.

    1. I’ve changed my position on that. Once Jerry went up and explained that the plane was going to leave without him any minute now, the woman should’ve let him through. It’s nice that we want to be polite, but we should also be helpful wherever possible, not obstructionist and anal!

      1. Yeah, I wouldn’t have asked anyone. I would have done as Jerry did and assume they would understand as people being reasonable & polite.

  15. Airport policy makers could recognize that passengers in queue may be at risk of missing scheduled flight departure times because other passengers not facing imminent departure are in line ahead of them.

    Notice could be posted on tickets, and signs throughout airports, that ten minutes (or whatever time is most appropriate) prior to departure an announcement over the PA system will authorize passengers with tickets for imminent announced flight departures to proceed past other passengers on line who are booked on later flights.

    No need for bothering for permission, no need for someone screwed by circumstances beyond their control to miss their flight, no need for that empty seat, no need for the airline to reschedule. The grace period is short enough to avoid encouraging large scale procrastination late arrivals.

    Get to the front of the line without this ticket requires a mandatory sit-down with terminal security forces.

    Or maybe not. Perhaps somebody in logistics has thought through some similar scenario already and realized sound reasons why it is impracticle.

  16. I’m imagining how much “fun” it could be to be the one person in line who said no.

    You’re 50th in line and I’m 25th. People 1-24 all say, “sure, go ahead.” And I say, “no, but I’ll say yes if I get to go ahead of all those people in front of me too.” I wonder if any of the 1-24 people would say, “One is okay but two is too many.”

    What I’ve seen more often in the US is someone who works their way up the line from the back, politely asking each group of travelers. I’ve watched and have never seen anyone refused.

    1. Maybe it could be a self-perpetuating form of politeness? Once the first person says yes, no one after that wants to look like a callous grump and say no, so they all join in and say yes when asked.

  17. No I don’t think this is normal from my experiences traveling in Canada. It is my opinion the official was just exercising dominance over you. I do find Canadians are less likely to be vocal than Americans. This is why I found Americans to complain loudly with me when we too had to go through another stupid inspection before boarding a plane in Vancouver. It’s because they walked us through the public area first…a bad design of the airport. In this case, however, the officials asked all people on a certain flight to come to the front of the line because they would miss their flight otherwise. The people didn’t have to ask.

    1. Same bad design in Paris CDG (where we caught our flight only because it was delayed) and Chicago (where the plane door was closed behind me).

      I’ve only missed a connecting flight once, and not because of security.

      But as George Stigler says, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’ve spent too much time in airports.”


  18. Might I ask a question?

    It seems to me that your/Sam Harris’s/ Dennett’s Free Will spat boils down to, well, definitions.

    If I have read Dennett right, he concurs that from the deterministic view – what he calls the Physical Stance – there is no such thing. If the initial conditions are set up identically, then the resulting “decision” will always be the same. He concedes that. He then goes on to declare, rather arbitrarily, that THAT definition of Free Will is, well, boring. He says that what he is talking about is the illusion of free will that is interesting, and that illusion he will call Free Will. Why does he find the deterministic view boring? Well, initial conditions never ARE set up identically, and the system that is the conscious brain is so complex that, from what he calls the Intentional Stance, calling the illusion of free will “Free Will” is intellectually useful and interesting. This seems to me very much a “Free Will of the Gaps” argument, if you will, which I hope Dennett would concede. Thus if I read Dennett right, he concedes that IF determinism is correct, THEN free will is an illusion; meanwhile, he will call the illusion of free will “Free Will,” and it is interesting enough to study. The better we understand the illusion, the less of an illusion there will be left.

    Would anyone care to comment?

    1. Don’t have time for a more expanded comment… but here’s my two cents.

      “Why does he find the deterministic view boring?”

      It’s not that he finds it boring – it’s that he finds it unacceptable. He has some very deep concerns about what would happen if we told people that free will isn’t real. This, I think, is the driving force behind his compatibilism, and it was particularly evident in his exchange with Sam Harris.

      “IF determinism is correct, THEN free will is an illusion; meanwhile, he will call the illusion of free will “Free Will,” and it is interesting enough to study. The better we understand the illusion, the less of an illusion there will be left.”

      I don’t think that’s the best way to put it. Rather, he accepts determinism, but pushes for basically an advanced action control system that humans have and other animals don’t. Despite everything being full determined, he thinks that being a conscious, rational agent gives one “free will” in his sense of the term. To an incompatibilist like myself this is nonsense – it’s wordplay that ignores the plain consequences of determinism that are staring us right in the face.

      I know there are very smart people that are compatibilist – undoubtedly Dennett is much smarter and learned than myself. I just find the position so logically backwards that it confounds me how one so smart can be taken in by it.

  19. As an expat Canadian living in the US who flies regularly back to Canada, I will just say this is not common. Frequently, when I have been waiting in line, there is a security agent who’s duties include checking the times of passengers flights and anyone who is running late gets brought to the front of the line. This is the same at many US airports. What happened here is really strange (particularly for a busy airport like Calgary)

  20. So if I am in a Canadian ER and having a heart attack, do I have to ask permission to go to the head of the queue?

    1. Yes, and we also ask you to donate all your Shopper’s Optimum points to the hospital as well as provide a double-double to everyone else who was inconvenienced by your insolence at having a heart attack and making his fellow Canadians 1) wait for you 2) pay for your illness. *

      *The above is all jokes.

    2. I know this is in jest, but no

      A friend of mine had his bro drive him to the hospital and they waited their turn

      When they got to him and saw his condition, they cuffed him on the back of the head and told him to call 911 next time or at least speak up when they arrived at emerg for immediate service

      He’s OK

  21. In my eyes it’s plain and simple that security in Calgary handled this badly. Jerry should not have had to make such a move. I’ve seen similar lineups in Vancouver and one line was quickly broken up into 2 or 3.

  22. I’ve been stuck in line with an imminent departure before and I asked everyone ahead of me if I could get ahead of them because it was blindingly obvious that I was delaying everyone else by going to the front. So I think she was right in providing the reminder. And while airlines have incentives to rearrange the queues for tickets and baggage checks to make sure everyone makes their flights, the airport security officials have no such incentives. Therefore, she was simply indicating who would need to be consulted in order to jump the queue.

  23. How refreshing to hear that there are some countries that queue. I live in a country where everyone tries to go to the head of the queue.

  24. I had a very different experience at Heathrow a few years back.

    I arrived much later than planned, thanks to the state of the London Orbital Car Park, or M25, as it is sometimes humorously known.

    Huge queues for even the check-in and only 30 minutes or so before scheduled departure. I explained my predicament to a member of BA staff, who positively dragged me through check-in and security.

    Thanks to her help, I made the flight. Hot and bothered and the last one to board, but I had made it!

    Sadly, the same could not be said for my baggage.

  25. Canadian here (and not too far from Calgary). Often when I’m at a Canadian airport, I notice security deliberately calls out for people who are danger of missing their flights. They are brought to the front of the line without any complaints. And it’s the airport security that takes the initiative, not the passenger.

    So your experience seems atypical. Too much politeness – it seems rather frustrating.

  26. Speaking as a Canadian, I can assure you that our Border agents and Airport security staff are as erratic and dangerous as they are everywhere in the world, they can and often are perfectly pleasant, but it is fully within their power to completely destroy your life. Enjoy your stay!

  27. I’ve noticed most at Toronto Pearson Airport twice and once in Edmonton. Most of the time the screening people will go through the line asking those passengers who are likely to miss their flight to come to the front of the line. I’ve never seen any other passenger object to this.

  28. I think it is rule keepers. Every culture has them. Rules = fairness. Follow the rules. Be on time and be honest, the only excuse worth having is death. If you cannot follow the rules, off with your head! Very shortsighted.

    The only rule that I apply to myself is physics and for others it is patience and politeness. I wouldn’t have given a second thought to let you go in front of me.

  29. I was in San Antonio, TX recently.
    At the airport’s security check entrance, they had a special line for active duty personnel.
    That line went straight to the front of the regular line.
    San Antonio has a huge military presence, and bus-loads of military people made use of this special line.
    There were quite a few elderly people in the regular line, as well as some handicapped folks in wheel chairs.
    They all had to wait so that these very fit young military men and women could skip the line.
    I get all the ‘We Support Our Troops’ signs, but being forced to ‘support’ them didn’t feel right.
    What’s the consensus on THIS practice? (I bet other airports have similar lines).
    Am I being unpatriotic for finding this ridiculous?

    1. Up until 2008 or so, you could have been dragged outside somewhere and shot for even thinking this. Many of your fellow US citizens would have volunteered to pull the trigger, and many of those not in favor would have been too fearful of their own fate to speak up on your behalf.

      Thankfully, all that has since changed. Now people would probably be satisfied if you only got 25-to-life in a supermax.

  30. The security agent was wrong. There was no reason to ask everyone. The people at the front of the line would have heard your reasons for needing to jump the line.

    If your reason hadn’t been sufficient, then it would have been up to those people to complain. I don’t know anyone who would given the circumstances.

    On the other hand, I was once at a Costco waiting in line when a woman walked up to the front, said hello to her friends and dumped her purchases. She looked at me and said “I get to because I’m old.”

    She wasn’t that old, and I have arthritis that is mainly effecting my spine, and it’s agony standing in line. I was more then a little annoyed. Since I’m a Canadian, I used passive aggression, which is to say, when she asked if it was all right, I just raised an eyebrow. Since she was Canadian, she picked up her stuff and went to the back of the line while making jokes about it.

    I recall a time when I was being tailgated while driving my motorcycle. I was keeping up with traffic. When I stopped for traffic, I turned around and shook my head. She started screaming obscenities at me. I assumed she was a recent immigrant.
    Just kidding. I don’t think Canadians are different then most any other people.

  31. I don’t know if you can generalize Canadians that much. We have people on the extreme right to the extreme left and many people from many different country’s. I have no idea how to describe a Canadian anymore except that “we are not American”. Whatever that means.
    And the lady was a jerk.

  32. I forwarded this to a close personal associate who is Canadian… glad to see the return opinion jives with mine so well. This person is dealing with dysfunctional Canadian bureaucracies at the moment, which is why I thought to forward it.

    Keep in mind that there really is 5 (or 6) Canadas, depending on how you count. The urban west, cowboy (redneck) country [e.g. Calgary]), the urban east (Winnepeg, Ottawa, Toronto, etc.), French Canada (Quebec), the Maritimes, and the serious boonies (NW territories, Ninavut, etc.)

    Great news that Jerry had the common sense to get ahead of the line and show someone how to take initiative. This country is full of sanctimonious nitwits, especially if someone has given them a badge. They don’t seem to know how to help each other, and I often wonder if the holocaust could happen here. At least, in Alberta. Time to criticise Canadians for often being less polite than Americans. I see it every day.

    And indeed this person does (I cannot go into detail, but assure you it is not hyperbole to say the experiences have been nothing short of horrifying). Do not make the mistake of assuming that a Canadian authority will display common sense, common courtesy or any form of attention to detail or nuance. They seem to thrive on the established tradition of meekness and shared suffering of the common prole. (I’ve seen similar patterns in the UK, as well) Just shut up and keep your head down, and don’t be rude.

    1. Stephen – You are right about most of your comments, but I have to voice an objection to your classification of Calgary as “redneck”. A couple years ago our city became the first big (over a million folks) cities in North America to elect a Muslim mayor – a liberal college prof, at that.)

      My kids go to an elementary school named for one of the women who brought suffrage to the country; their middle schools are either one named for a native hanged for a native (Metis) rights insurrection he launched a hundred years ago; or they will go to a school named for an escaped black slave from Texas who became a rancher here. The high school honours a communist who unionized farmers in the 1930s. We are a complicated city.

      Rednecks are welcome to live here (if they must) but we are pretty diverse. Could a ‘holocaust’ happen in Alberta as you suggest? It could happen anywhere. Less likely here than in the USA, but everyone needs to be vigilant. Alberta certainly has its share of idiots, but don’t dismiss all of us in one broad sweep.

      1. I’m not, Miksha – and I do understand Calgary to be diverse; it is after all, a big city. Also note it wasn’t me making the holocaust comment. But I am from redneck country myself, and am quite acquainted with redneck Montana as well as its redneck counterpart directly north of Montana. I know rednecks when I see them, and I know I’ve seen a lot of them north of Montana. Not everybody, just a hell of a lot of ’em. Or do you not understand nuance, yourself?

    2. In case anyone has forgotten: the airport tasing death with follow-up reportage to indicate how RCMP officials lied their ass off to make themselves appear murderously stupid. And this was in the center of the supposedly civilised Vancouver. Also note how politely the authority figure asks the other authority figure for permission to tase. Just following orders…

      Incident in Kelowna… kind-of southeast and over a pass from Kamloops. Violence aside, passive aggression or outright hostility seems to be the order of the day for many authority figures, from security personnel to health-care personnel, to general bureaucrats.

      1. It’s what happens when either the person feels they have no real power (security in airports) or have really no one to answer to (police of various types).

  33. Sorry Professor but I had the same experience clearing US customs in Chicago except I didn’t get through on time and I did miss my plane.

  34. I saw almost exactly the same thing happen at Schipol airport in the Netherlands recently. I had the feeling the request to get permission from everyone in the line was as much a punishment for failing to be a responsible person who turns up in time as it was a theatrical piece of enforced politeness. (Dutch people typically turn up very early at airports and pride themselves on their self-reliance and responsible nature). The man in a hurry in this case looked utterly stunned at the security woman’s suggestion, and ultimately just asked the people at the top of the queue if he could cut in ahead. There were no complaints so on he went, but not before he got into friendly chat with the couple who had let him in (there was still a couple of minutes of near stationary queuing to be done).

  35. I did a couple of summers as an airport security person during my undergrad (pre 9/11, so my experience was very different from today) but two of the people I worked with are still friends and still working in airport security, so I shot them a quick email and asked their thoughts.

    They pointed out that the airlines typically notify them if there are connecting flights that are going to be late or if there are people who need to get to their flight asap. Then they check the lines, etc as others have mentioned.

    Without this notice, they don’t know if there is a legitimate reason for your being late or if you are someone who doesn’t like the waiting area and tries to rush in at the last minute.

    It appears to have been a judgement call on the part of the security person, which could have been worse if she’d overruled the passengers. I’m glad it worked out.

    As for American vs. Canadian as some have mentioned, I was working at times when both Dave Thomas (of Wendy’s) and Anne Murray were subject to extra screening and the American businessman was much politer than the Canadian singer. 🙂

    Enjoy the conference, I wish could have freed the time to attend.

  36. I’m from Calgary as well, and travel by air 4-6 times a year. I’ve often seen security people asking people if their flight time is imminent, in which case they’ll hurry them to the head of the line.

  37. I remember being in a queue of about 50 to get off the ferry in New Zealand. We were all lined up quietly, but 2 Americans about 5 spaces apart were having a loud conversation as if no one was there, that everybody could hear. I remember lots of people smiling awkwardly.

  38. With respect to your question, Jerry: “…is this normal behavior? Or was I simply the victim of an officious official who didn’t like what she saw as an obnoxious and pushy American?”

    It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition, it could well be both. 😄

  39. For finally being able to have “a good time” “recapping your work done in the past” over those loveliest of Canadian Rockies to Kamloops “like a flower loves the spring,” Mz Tina of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUqIx_o6Lr4 on … … mountains and rivers !

    I am glad you did not miss that prop’s flight !


  40. My wife and I were due to fly to Rarotonga from Auckland airport one evening, our itinerary showed a 2200 departure time, so about 2030 or so we strolled up to security, an official took one look at our boarding passes and hustled us past all the queues (with me wondering what all the fuss was about), hurried us to the gate and we were ushered on board – watched by all the other pax who were already seated and waiting for us. We took off almost immediately, which seemed odd, till I looked at my boarding pass and it said “2020”. I dug out our itinerary and it still said “2200”.

    I still regret that I must have seemed very casual and unappreciative to the official who got us on board.

  41. I was 4th in line at the grocery store and all I had was a dozen eggs. The lady that was about to put her full basket of merchandise on the counter saw me and beckoned me to come in front of her. As I started to pass the others I noticed that the lady immediately in front of me had only a loaf of bread. I declined the offer and felt guilty that I turned down the favor. But it’s true: everyone in line has to agree.

  42. …the more I’m peeved that an official would rather have me miss my plane than go to the head of the line (something that is regularly allowed in the U.S. for late passengers).

    But not, of course, invariably. Witnessed the exact situation at the Grand Rapids airport last year; the poor man running late was quivering with emotion about the repercussions of missing his flight (sounded like a person who seldom flew), emotions which then became rage. I didn’t know whether to fear he’d have a heart attack or that he’d leave and return with a gun! Most unpleasant all around. In retrospect I wish I’d had the presence of mind to speak up and say “oh, do let him go ahead,” and try to encourage my fellow waitees to do the same.

    In that case the first TSA agent called over another who supported her. All in all slowing down the whole process for everyone, of course, while they argued with the man, eventually threatening to call security if he didn’t desist.

    (He did, but looked devastated. Some people are flying for more crucial reasons than others, of course…I felt very bad for him.)

  43. If she had been truly polite she would have made a general request to the people in the line for you.

  44. Yep. Very normal. Everyone takes their turn. Also double screening is very normal. If you travel often between the borders of the US and Canada, get a Nexus card. Costs very little and good for several years. You get to jump the queue and go through the fast lane (the one the flight crew uses). In the US it is called the TSA Pre line.

  45. You’re lucky youe weren’t shot.
    (I’m not feeling very charitable to the police of the world today, having been robbed – twice – last night by armed police.)

    1. Mind you, choosing Canada as a place to try this sort of thing did have a pretty high chance of success – in the non-shooting sense. Very relaxed people the Canucks that I met in my 6-odd months of transiting through there to work.

  46. I’m Canadian and flown through many Canadian airports, and this surprises me. I’ve regularly seen airport officials moving people with sooner boarding times to the front of lines. Someone above commented that a true Canadian would rather miss their plane than skip the line, but that’s nonsense. The polite thing for a person in line to do is to give up a few minutes of their own time to help you get through faster because you need it.

  47. Canadian customs are rude. I had 15 minutes to catch my plane since the one from FTL was late. There were 10 people ahead of me to go thru their “customs” ahead of the line to catch my flight. I asked a pregnant rotund female representative of the CTSA if I can get ahead i the line and was told coldly there is nothing i can do for you . Stand and wait your turn. The people in front of me appearing to be Canadians, all let me up front ahead of them nicely, but the customs bitch…. she was just that and her response even took the locals aback. Worse having already gone thru security, i had to do security again to chat the connecting flight in Toronto because CTSA mingle non screened people with connecting people. Again the plane issue and again the same wait your turn. The plane was loading when i arrived, i was one of the last to get on the plane barely made it. Canadian TSA make the USA TSA appear to be pussycats. Disgusting overkill

    1. She probably thought you were Canadian. Canadian Customs hates fellow Canadians. I’ve heard them yell & call people “stupid” at airports. Thankfully, those angry ones haven’t been in charge of my line (I would’ve moved to another if that were the case).

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