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Canadian Airports: Current Situation and our Tips

To the point Summer is coming and the travels have started again! Here are some tips to make your trip to the airport easier and more enjoyable!

During the last two summer seasons of 2021 and 2022, we saw a phenomenon of “catch-up travel” or Revenge Travel, where the passage to the airport was harder. This is what is coming again for the 2023 summer season.

Going through the airport: basic rules

First of all, here are a few things you need to know for a smooth airport experience.

Security controls

Before starting your vacation, you will have to pass the security check. This is when you should empty your water bottle, remove your laptop and remove the contents of your pockets.

You must go through security before all flights, whether in Canada or abroad. However, some airports have an international zone where you can make a connection without having to go through security again.

However, if you need to change your terminal, it is likely that you will have to leave this area.

Going through the customs

The difference between passing security and customs is:

  • Safety: check if you pose a danger to the aircraft
  • Customs: check if you pose a danger to the country

So, when you go through the airport, customs (or immigration) is in place to determine if you are eligible to enter or leave a country.

In addition, customs are present at the airport to control the entry of certain goods, whether legal or illegal. For example, there is a limit to how much alcohol you can bring back to Canada when customs in Australia will seize your bag of beef jerky.

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At the beginning of the journey

In Canadian terminals, you do not go through customs when you leave for your vacation unless your vacation includes a flight segment to the United States.

The U.S. borders are located in a separate terminal at most Canadian airports. So you are in “American territory” before boarding the plane.

For all international travel (except the United States), you will pass through border control upon arrival at your destination in the country after your flight.

So, when you land in the United States from Canada, you are in a domestic zone where you can leave without additional screening. This will not be the case in Mexico, for example, where the customs are on their territory.

Back from vacation

When you return to Canada from abroad, you will clear Canadian customs at your first point of entry into the country, regardless of where you are travelling from. So, vacationers returning from New York or Italy will follow the same procedure.

Then, if you have a connection in the U.S. on your way back, you will also have to go through U.S. customs on your way through the airport.

Checked baggage

Do we have to pick up our luggage when we have a connection?

The general rule, if all your flights are on the same reservation, is :

  • Departure to Canada, the United States or any other international destination: checked baggage will follow until the end
  • Return to Canada: Checked baggage follows to the final destination when you arrive from Europe and your point of entry is in Toronto or Montreal.
  • Return to Canada via an international stopover: same as above
  • Return to Canada via the U.S.: checked baggage usually follows depending on where you are coming from. Please check with the agent at check-in.

Indeed, the return is more difficult to untangle than the departure. Here are some examples to better understand the rules of baggage clearance (baggage claim) when returning from a trip.

Itinerary Customs clearance
Paris-Montreal Montreal
Paris-Toronto-Quebec Toronto (luggage should follow)
Hawaii-Toronto-Québec Toronto (luggage should follow)
Istanbul-Munich-Montreal Montreal (luggage should follow)

Any exceptions? Unfortunately yes, some terminals and some companies sometimes deviate from these general rules.

Our advice if you receive instructions to the contrary? Take the time to check the baggage carousels at your Canadian and U.S. ports of entry to make sure your bags have followed.

Often, when your journey through the airport leads you to have the carousel of suitcases on your way, the chances are high that customs clearance (baggage claim) will be necessary. Conversely, if you stay in the same terminal or do not have to go through security again, your bags should follow on their own on that stopover.


The current situation in Canadian airports

Travel has definitely resumed and the situation is evident at the airports.

In the three major Canadian hubs (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), traffic is very high. It is important to understand the causes of the inconveniences that can occur when one experiences frustration while going through the airport:

  • Revenge travel: many people are now ready to leave
  • Shortage of staff: this problem is felt at the airline level (few agents at the counters, lack of crew) and at the border services level (few agents for customs clearance)

So the workload is increased while the staff to meet it is insufficient or decreased.


Arrive early

To make your passage through the airport more pleasant, it is advisable to arrive at least 3 hours in advance and even more; in the event that you can get through quickly, you can rest in a lounge!

Please note that checked baggage counters are not always open more than 3 hours before the flight, especially if it is a visiting airline. For example, Air Canada counters should still be open at Canadian airports, but the Qatar Airways counter may be closed for much of the day.

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Nexus and Global Entry

Another cost-effective option to cut through the lines when going through the airport is with the Nexus and Global Entry cards.

Nexus Passeports Milesopedia

Recently, I have been able to take advantage of this benefit at the Montreal and Toronto airports and in the United States. I was able to get to my gate quickly while there were zigzags of people as far as the eye could see in the regular lines. I made it through in less than 15-20 minutes each time.

On the way back, with Nexus, I was able to avoid the mass for the border control and I was able to take the Nexus priority line to exit the terminal while the crowd has to do another line, with their luggage, before leaving.

Some credit cards, like the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card, even offer a statement credit for a Nexus membership.

However, new applicants will hit a wall if the intention is to get Nexus by this summer; appointments have resumed, but availability at Canadian airports is only for December at the time of writing!

The perks of credit cards

If you can’t apply for the Nexus program, you can receive similar benefits with a premium credit card.

In fact, credit cards in the “Visa Infinite Privilege” line such as the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Privilege* Credit Card and the Platinum Card® allow cardholders to quickly pass through security checkpoints.

These priority lines are usually adjacent to Nexus queues.

In addition to avoiding the major inconvenience of waiting over an hour (and more), these credit cards offer generous welcome bonuses to help you save on your next trip! The bonus points, the various credits and the many benefits more than make up for the annual fee you have to pay.

Bottom line

Have you traveled recently? Come and share your airport experience in the community!

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
I'm Aline, an experienced traveller, a foodie at heart, an Avgeek, a photography enthusiast and an expert on credit card programs. I use Reward Points to travel on a budget and to save money on everyday life; writing about these topics allows me to share my passion and help you. ~ 7 continents and 75 countries ~

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