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Air Canada marks 10 years at Hartsfield-Jackson

By Justin Boron

Gate D11 is Air Canada employee Gigi Figueiredo's home away from home.

She says in the past 10 years, the ride on the people mover and the walk down the concourse up to the Air Canada gate have become second nature to her.

Figueiredo is one of six Air Canada employees to have shoved off the airline's first plane from the gate in D concourse of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 1995.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Air Canada's service to Atlanta, she and a few others started the airline's operations at the airport from the root, or "Day 1," as she calls it.

Since then, the airline has been through three different-size planes and had as many as seven flights leaving from two gates during the 1996 Olympics.

Even its largest presence pales in comparison to other major carriers at the airport, like Delta Air Lines.

But being the short kid on the field, doesn't mean the airline is always picked last, said Kevin Smith, the regional manager for the airline.

At 68 years old, Air Canada has 18 stations at airports in the United States. Atlanta has become an important launching point from the South for the airline, he said.

Business travel into Toronto is a large source of the airline's ticket sales, Smith said.

Also, Toronto is a convenient hub to connect to flights heading east to Asia, the Chicago-based Smith said.

Tuesday, the Atlanta employees of Air Canada offered a pre-flight dessert to passengers headed to Toronto on one of the company's 50-seat CRJ jets in celebration of the 10-year milestone.

But working at the Atlanta airport wasn't always coffee and cake for the employees.

The task of opening Air Canada's first station consisted of a few employees doing about everything except actually flying the plane, Figueiredo said.

She said she checked in passengers, worked the ramp outside the gate, directed customers, and did troubleshooting until the airline station was fully staffed.

Just when the station seemed to be getting its sea legs at the 130-acre terminal and concourse complex, Figueiredo said the Olympics came to town, which brought a degree of stress complemented by exhilaration.

"The airport was humming," she said. "It opened my eyes to the potential of the city."

Following the Olympics, Figueiredo and five other employees received permanent jobs at the airport.

Robert Argumosa, Daniel Poirier, Mimi Lamy, Janet Rossi, and Manita Bailey formed the core of Canada Air employees who have been at the airport for the long haul.

Although times have been tough in the struggling travel industry, Smith said Air Canada is here to stay in Atlanta.

Air Canada also is on the verge of introducing a new color scheme.

Smith said the airline will move away from its current dark green to light teal on its airplanes and staff.