Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tight U.S. border gives Canada a boost

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Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

AARON LYNETT / POSTMEDIA NETWORK Enlarge Image

Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Pity the poor business traveller who needs to get from London to Monterrey, one of Mexico's most important commercial centres after Mexico City itself.

Virtually every itinerary produced by a flight search engine requires connecting via the United States.

The same rule normally applies if you're trying to get from Frankfurt to Guadalajara, or from Hong Kong to Mexico City -- unless you fly via Europe, which is the long way around the world.

That is bad news for many travellers these days. Not only has U.S. Customs and Border Protection become more demanding of travellers since 9/11, the agency is often accused of treating even vacationers as potential terrorists. It has also cut back on airport staffing due to budget cuts, resulting in complaints of missed connections and passengers needing two to four hours just to get out of the airport after their flight arrives, even if they have nothing to declare and everything else goes smoothly.

Unlike many global air hubs, U.S. airports generally do not have international transit facilities that exempt passengers merely passing through the country from having to go through full customs and immigration checks. Instead, these passengers must be fully screened and formally admitted to the U.S. before immediately leaving again.

If an airline offered a bypass that allowed travellers to get from Latin America to Europe or Asia -- or vice versa -- without having to go through all this hassle, it could get away with charging a premium, and profiting nicely from it.

The same goes for airports and local border authorities, which would benefit from collecting the associated fees added to the ticket.

Canada could very well become the main beneficiary of America's border problems. Our major airports have already been redesigned with express lanes to make sure connecting passengers make their flights. Facilities are also in place that allow passengers flying from Europe or Asia to the U.S. via Canada to go directly from their flight into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening facility right in the airport, without having to go through Canadian border formalities.

These passengers can then disembark at their U.S. destination already having been cleared to enter the U.S., and be out of the airport and on their way within minutes instead of hours.

Airports such as Toronto's and Montreal's have also set up dedicated international gates, which could be the first step to allowing passengers merely passing through Canada, between Latin America and Europe or Asia, to do so without needing to have their passport stamped or fill out a declaration form.

Currently, any airline wishing to open up new regularly scheduled routes between Canada and Mexico must already be authorized to do so under a bilateral agreement that dates back to the 1960s, or make arrangements to have that agreement modified.

Yet this new agreement just announced is not just about linking Canada with Mexico. Canada is very close to the direct line path between Mexico and both Europe and Asia. A Monterrey-London journey via Toronto, for example, barely adds less than two kilometres to the total journey; a Monterrey-Hong Kong journey via Vancouver is a fraction of a per cent longer than the straight line distance.

Loosening up those restrictions could establish Canada as the best transfer point between Latin America and the vitally important European and Asian markets. That not only has the potential to be good for Canada's airlines and airports, it could also be good for the Canadian economy as well, by positioning ourselves as a logical place to do business if you need fairly easy access to Europe, Asia, Latin America or the U.S.

 

Kevin McDougald writes the Winnipeg-based blog The View from Seven at theviewfromseven.wordpress.com.

Twitter: @kevinmcdougald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2014 A10

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