Canadians who are planning to travel this summer, “pack your patience.”
That is the advice from one travel expert in Toronto, as unusually long lines at airports and passport offices continue to cause delays across the country.
After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, there is a “pent-up demand to travel,” with interest surging “very close” to pre-pandemic levels, said Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker.
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“The dilemma now is that the infrastructure at both airports and passport offices is just not caught up with the demand, and that’s what’s really causing a problem,” he told Global News.
In recent weeks, airports — particularly in Toronto and Vancouver — have seen hours-long security queues, customs bottlenecks and other delays.
The Canadian Airports Council blames the COVID-19 protocols for the holdup, but the federal government says current health measures are in place to keep Canadians safe as the virus continues to spread.
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Factoring in the “tremendous lineups,” Firestone said his advice to his clients is to get to the airport well in advance — at least three to four hours before the flight.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) expects an increase of almost 50 per cent in international passengers at Pearson, Canada’s busiest airport, this summer.
While Canada has eased its travel restrictions this year, some still remain at points of entry, including random COVID-19 testing upon arrival.
All incoming travellers are also required to submit their vaccine and travel information on the ArriveCAN app and show it to border officials upon landing.
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Staffing issues at airports on top of COVID-19 protocols and increased travel demand are contributing to the backlogs and hindering the flow of traffic into the country, travel experts say.
Jennifer Weatherhead, co-founder of Travel & Style, recommends being mentally prepared for delays.
“You really need to look into the particular airport that you’re travelling to and where you’ll be coming back,” she told Global News.
“And if you are connecting through any other country or any other airport, try to give yourself as much time as possible.”
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Travellers are having to sit for two to three hours in the plane even after landing , which is “pretty aggravating,” Firestone said, adding that such delays will deter many from making plans this summer.
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He said people should be prepared for a three-hour differential from the time they land to leaving the airport.
As for booking flights, early morning might not be the best bet to avoid hassle as security lines and customs are just opening up, according to Weatherhead.
“So if you can look to book something that’s either mid-morning or later in the day, see if you have that one change fee possible where you’re not charged to change that one time,” she said.
Having a valid passport is a pre-requisite for travel anywhere in the world.
“You can’t fly if your passport has less than six months remaining on it or it is expired,” said Firestone.
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Across the country, thousands of Canadians are hastening to renew their passports after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Passport Canada says it is experiencing very high call volumes right now and wait times are longer than usual.
“If you do not have travel plans in the next two weeks, we suggest you wait to call us,” the agency says on its website.
Amid the delays, Canadians are urged to have their renewed passport in hand before finalizing or booking any trips. If you’re not able to get your passport in time, your travel insurance will not cover the trip cancellation, Firestone warned.
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Soaring fuel prices amid Canada’s high inflation and the war in Ukraine mean travel will be more expensive this year.
As of Sunday, the average price of gas in Canada was $1.97 per litre, according to GasBuddy.
Provinces like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have seen prices hit at least $2.00 per litre, with the latter sitting at $2.15 per litre on Sunday. Average gas prices in Newfoundland and Labrador hit $2.18 per litre. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta prices sit under $2.00 per litre, according to GasBuddy.
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The cost of gas has been on an uphill climb since Russia began its invasion on Ukraine, and is still expected to be pricey during the summer. Firestone says this will make cross-border road trips prohibitive, forcing Canadians to rethink driving down south to the United States.
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The rise in fuel costs is also having an impact on air fares, with an increment of “25 to 30 per cent,” according to Firestone.
“Prices are through the roof,” he said. “[Due to] a combination of demand coupled with fuel, there’s no inexpensive flights anymore.”
Toronto resident Reena Kara says while she is feeling safer flying again, the long airport lines and high air fares are making her “feel more anxious to travel.”
Booking your ticket early is the way to go, experts say.
Weatherhead expects backlogs at airports to slow down after summer and recommends booking flights starting now for fall and winter trips.
— With files from Sharmeen Somani, Irelyne Lavery, Reuters and The Canadian Press
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