Fame seems to be just the ticket for beating the interminable new lineups at Canadian airports.
Hollywood actress Halle Berry sailed past hundreds of passengers waiting to clear U.S. customs at Montreal's Trudeau Airport on Monday, thanks to a personal escort from a uniformed Montreal police officer.
Police say the officer acted improperly and the department's no-favouritism policy will be rigorously enforced. But the actress's fast-track treatment has struck a nerve about privilege at a time of wearying air travel for the ordinary masses.
Only two months ago, some Canadian hockey players came under criticism when they jumped the queue to get speedy H1N1 vaccinations. Now the latest status symbol may be the ability to skip the queues at airports, which have grown since the attempted Christmas Day bombing on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit.
Ms. Berry's VIP treatment was spotted by a freelance journalist who had been in line for an hour, waiting to clear U.S. customs to catch her Air Canada flight to Los Angeles. Mariève Paradis says she spotted Ms. Berry go by, accompanied by her 22-month-old daughter and her Quebec-born partner, model Gabriel Aubry.
When Ms. Paradis finally passed through customs and reached the gate with minutes to go, an Air Canada employee "not very politely" reprimanded her for being late, she says. Ms. Paradis arrived at the airport almost three hours before her flight, only to face numerous security hurdles.
"I wouldn't have been late if I was Halle Berry," she said.
Ms. Paradis says she is not out to sully Ms. Berry's reputation, but is irked by the police escort she received.
"In the wake of a near-terrorist attack and with all the increased security measures, don't the police have something better to do than escort celebrities?" she said from Los Angeles.
Inspector Jimmy Cacchione, head of the 36-member Montreal police unit at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, said Mr. Aubry approached the officer. He explained he was with Halle Berry, the couple were late for their flight and they had a child. The officer acted on his own and accompanied them to the front of the line.
The couple had about 45 minutes to go before their 8:10 a.m. flight, Insp. Cacchione said. The couple were flying business class.
There are legitimate reasons sometimes for whisking air travellers to the front of the line - those with crying babies, for example, or celebrities causing a disruption because they're being besieged for autographs, Insp. Cacchione said. That wasn't the case for Ms. Berry, however. Nor did the Oscar-winning actress have a Nexus pass to speed her through.
"If she had a Nexus pass, I would have had a very different day today," he said.
Some VIPs do have access to specialized service at Canadian airports. Trudeau airport mandates a Montreal service, Services d'accueil aux visiteurs de marque (Reception services for VIPs), to offer "personalized reception service" for visitors right after they de-plane. Company official Martin Lalumière said he sometimes get requests from celebrities seeking to avoid Canadian customs lines. They're told to forget about it.
"We can't offer any privileges when they arrive in the country," Mr. Lalumière said.Report Typo/Error