A century ago flying out of Calgary airport was a certainly a no-frills experience. In fact, when it first opened on the eve of The Great War in 1914, a ramshackle hut doubled up as the both passenger terminal and the airport's main aircraft hangar. Planes would take off along a bouncy strip of grass.
Times have certainly changed things for the better. In 2010 Calgary International, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and so a magnet for Winter sports enthusiasts,handled over 12.5 million passengers, making it the fourth busiest airport in Canada. New long-haul routes to Seoul, Hawaii and Tokyo have been added recently, and the airport is generally regarded as one of the most efficient and pleasant to fly from in the entire country.
That's not to say things are perfect. A quick trawl online uncovers quite a few horror stories of brusque Customs staff, long security queues and confusing signage, but the airport is working hard to up its game. As with so many other airports around the world, a C$3 (£1.88) billion investment programme is underway. The project will see the construction of a 22-gate international terminal and an additional runway. They will both be big enough to cope with the A380 superjumbo, when finally open in 2014.
As of today (2010), however, the airport has just one terminal, but it is split into four concourses (A-D). Concourse A is used mostly for domestic flights, Concourses B and D handle both US-bound and international departures, while Concourse C hosts US-bound flights only. Across all four concourses travellers will find around 125 shops and restaurants to help them while away their time. Here is our guide to the best of what is on offer.
If you have become hooked on the rough and frenetic national game of ice hockey during your stay in Calgary, head to the Flames Fannatic outlet on the Departures Level East. The shop, which is open from 08.00 to 20.00 daily, stocks a variety of jerseys, hats, t-shirts, ladies' clothing and kids wear branded to the city's two big teams, the Calgary Flames and Calgary Hitmen. See www.flamesport.com
for a full run down of what you will find in-store.
For fashion of a less sporty nature, look out for Canadian retailer Bentley, which not only aims to loosen travellers' wallets, but hopes to sell them one too. With stores all over the country and two at the airport (Departures Level East and MTW Kanaskis Hall), Bentley stocks everything from sturdy backpacks to fine Italian leather briefcases, travel wallets and currency converters.
While you are in the store, look out for Calgary-based leather goods brand Derek Alexander, which is now also popular in the US, as well as Rudsak, another Canadian brand not shy of showing its hip, international influences. See www.shopbentley.com
for more details.
Swiss duty-free retailer Nuance runs the duty-free concession at Calgary International and boasts stores in all four concourses (A-D). The retailer claims to stock a full range of duty-free cosmetics, fragrances, liquor, confectionery, souvenirs, sunglasses, watches and fashion jewellery. Prices are described as up to "35% cheaper" than the Canadian domestic market, but traveller's can't check for themselves before travelling as the shops have no specific website. In a web-savvy country such as Canada, that's plain lazy in our view.
Contrast that approach with the more consumer-friendly, but much smaller Scents Forever retailer, which operates three small kiosk-style outlets at the airport (Departures Level, Concourses A and D). Their cluttered stores may not be the last thing in retailing, but at least their rudimentary website, www.scentsforever.ca
, lets prospective customers know what they have got in stock (quite a lot, as it happens). It welcomes them to get in touch should they want pricing details or more
information, and even offers a free shipping service to anywhere in Canada for purchases of over C$150 (£94.30). Full marks for making an effort, we say.
Still on the beauty trail we rather like the look of Soap Stories (Departures Level East), one of the newest shops to open at the airport. This modern open-plan store sells soaps and facials many of which are beautifully packaged and would make nice gifts for family and friends. One of the most interesting brands sold there is Gratiae, a skincare line made from the native flora and organic oils found in and around the Sea of Galilee.
Now let’s get onto liquor. Alberta isn't like other Canadian provinces in that it doesn’t have a state-run liquor board controlling alcohol sales. That's why you will see a couple of independently run duty-paid liquor stores, Cloud 9 Liquor & Wine Store and SkyWay Liquor in Concourse A dotted around the airport. With liquor taxes in Alberta comparatively low, it may be worth your while stocking up at these shops if you are headed somewhere else in the country where the price of booze could be a lot higher.
On the gifting front Bloomsbury's takes a scattergun approach. You will find all sorts here from smart Canadian fashion brands to artwork and sculptures from local Albertan artists. Foodie treats sold here include the obligatory maple syrup and smoked salmon. This store is located on Departures Level East and is open from 06.00 to 21.00.
Alternatively, head to The Heritage Trading Post for a fun take on Alberta's history, which is also located on Departures Level East (Concourse D). It sells books on native Canadian tribes, as well as handmade leather jackets, jade carvings, bronze statues and other art works. Look out for ammolite pieces too, which are beautiful dark precious stones only found in Alberta.
We love good chocolate here at taxfreetravel and Belgian chocolatier Bernard Callebaut has been making superb chocolates in Calgary for nearly a quarter of a century (Departures Level West). The great man has moved on from the company that bears his name after it ran into financial difficulty last year, but the branded stores remain. Choose from balotin and presentation boxes, as well as seasonal treats, truffles, chocolate bars, sauces and even coffee. See www.bernardcallebaut.com
for more details.
Once you are done shopping why not flop down in a Shiatsu Plus Massage Chair, which are located on all of the Concourses, and relax. Alternatively, if you still have energy, pop over to the Spaceport on the Mezzanine Food Court, where Nasa has given the airport a long-term loan of a replica space shuttle and a real moon rock. This free attraction is a godsend to frazzled parents with kids in tow as there are some excellent exhibits such as wind tunnels, flight simulators and model rocket launchers to educate the little ones and keep them entertained (how often can you
say that!). For a full guide to this highly recommended airport attraction, see www.calgaryspaceport.com
Official airport shopping site: http://www.yyc.com/Default.aspx?cid=30&lang=1