Bulkley Valley Taxi Service driver Juanita McIntyre said she was helping five women visiting town get their luggage into her taxi at Smithers Airport a few months ago when an airport security guard charged at her “like a bull.”
McIntyre said the security guard screamed at her to move the car while pointing aggressively in her face.
McIntyre had parked her vehicle beside a detour sign near the baggage claim area, which was outdoors at the time, violating the airport’s rules as that spot was in a no parking zone.
The women, who were already annoyed they had to go outside to pick up their luggage, were appalled at the security guard’s behavior and told McIntyre they’ll never come back to Smithers.
“It’s sad and embarrassing to experience that,” McIntyre said.
Smithers Airport manager Rob Blackburn said he was made aware of the incident.
“I’ve met with my contractor and dealt with it on [my] end as best as I can and we continue to ask them to enforce the rules here,” Blackburn said. “That’s their job and unfortunately it’s not a very pleasant job sometimes when people get mad at them and don’t want to follow the rules.”
This was just the latest confrontation in an ongoing conflict between BV Taxis and Smithers Airport.
“I’ve been doing this business 14 years and just in the last three or four years since the new administration has come in at the airport things have changed to the worse,” BV taxis owner, Joyce Pottinger, said. “It’s embarrassing, I was raised here and I want to provide a good service for Smithers.”
Blackburn said people waiting to pick up someone can do so in the designated loading and unloading zone in front of the control tower.
It is about 10 to 15 feet from one of the entrances to the airport Blackburn said.
Blackburn said the airport doesn’t allow people to park near the entrances of the airport because vehicles parked in those areas block oncoming traffic’s view of the crosswalk.
“If [vehicles are] parked before the crosswalk and a little kid runs out, or a smaller person comes out of the terminal building, they’re not seen until they’re well across the crosswalk and then it becomes a real public hazard,” Blackburn said.
People are allowed to quickly drop off or pick up passengers near the airport entrances — they just can’t park and wait Blackburn said.
“What the hell? The cars that are going through are going to be the one’s hitting people,” Pottinger said. “What airport in the world do you come out and there’s not a lineup of taxis right there — Smithers is the only one in the world.”
BV Pottinger said if there’s no free parking spots available, her taxis sometimes have to wait and make customers walk 300 meters away from the airport.
One time a driver had to park by SilverKing Helicopters Pottinger said.
Pottinger said her drivers have been yelled at and threatened with tickets for trying to get close to help elderly or sick passengers get into their vehicles by airport staff.
When she spoke to McIntyre about the incident with the security guard, McIntyre was in tears and refused to service the airport — and she wasn’t the only one. Multiple drivers have told Pottinger they’re tired of the abuse they receive from airport staff and won’t be returning to airport.
Pottinger said she convinced McIntyre and her other drivers to continue to service the airport because she didn’t want to punish customers for the actions of the airport.
As the only taxi company in town her service is the only way for tourists to get to and from the airport in a reasonable amount of time.
“We got to rise above this idiot system out there at the airport and just do our job as best we can,” Pottinger said.
Blackburn said he’s not trying to sabotage Pottinger’s business, he’s just trying ensure the safety of airport customers.
“We want them to be successful; we want them to get as many fares as they can from the airport and we want that service to be available out here,” Blackburn said. “There’s just going to be rules to keep the public safe and we want them to follow them.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he’s spoken to Blackburn and Pottinger about their issues with the policy.
“I certainly understand the concerns on both sides,” Bachrach said. “Our staff works hard to make sure all of the businesses operating at the airport are able to do so in a way that meets the needs of their customers, and at the same time our staff are working to ensure everyone’s safety and the smooth operation of the facility.”
Baggage claim update
The baggage claim area has been moved back indoors.
It was temporarily outside for about five to six weeks because as a result of renovations there was no space for baggage claim to operate safely or efficiently indoors, Blackburn said.
“At different phases of the project there are going to be inconveniences and we really appreciate everyone’s patience as we move through the project,” Bachrach said. “When we get to the end we’re going to have a modern, efficient, regional airport terminal and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Blackburn said he expects renovation to be completed in early 2019.