Canadians planning to travel this summer “pack your patience.”
That’s the advice of a travel expert in Toronto, as unusually long lines at airports and passport offices cause delays across the country.
After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, there is a “pent-up demand to travel”, with interest rates rising “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 just can’t keep up with demand, and that’s what’s really causing a problem,” he told Global News.
In recent weeks, airports, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, have faced hours of security queues, customs bottlenecks and other delays.
The Canadian Airports Council blames the COVID-19 protocols for the delay, but the federal government says current health measures have been taken to protect Canadians as the virus continues to spread.
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Taking into account the “huge lineups,” Firestone said his advice to customers 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 a nearly 50 percent increase in international passenger traffic 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 on arrival.
All inbound travelers must also 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 backlogs and hampering 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 have to look at the specific airport you’re traveling to and coming back to,” she told Global News.
“And if you’re connecting through another country or airport, try to give yourself as much time as possible.”
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Travelers have to sit on the plane for two to three hours, even after landing, which is “quite 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 difference from the moment they land until they leave the airport.
When it comes to booking flights, early morning may not be the best choice to avoid hassles, as security lines and customs are just opening, Weatherhead said.
“So if you want to book something that’s either mid-morning or later in the day, see if you might have that one change fee where you don’t have to pay to change that one time,” she said.
Having a valid passport is a prerequisite to travel anywhere in the world.
“You cannot fly if your passport is valid for less than six months or if it has expired,” Firestone said.
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Across the country, thousands of Canadians are rushing to renew their passports after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Passport Canada says it is currently experiencing very high call volumes and wait times are longer than usual.
“If you don’t have travel plans in the next two weeks, we recommend that you wait to call us,” the agency says on its website.
Amid the delays, Canadians are urged to have their renewed passports ready before completing or booking a trip. If you can’t get your passport on time, your travel insurance won’t cover the cancellation of the trip, Firestone warned.
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Rising fuel prices amid Canada’s high inflation and the war in Ukraine mean travel will be more expensive this year.
On Sunday, the average gas price in Canada was $1.97 per liter, according to GasBuddy.
Provinces like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have seen prices rise to at least $2.00 a liter, with the latter hitting $2.15 a liter on Sunday. The average gas price in Newfoundland and Labrador reached $2.18 per liter. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, prices are below $2.00 per liter, according to GasBuddy.
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The price of gas has risen sharply since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and is still expected to be expensive in the summer. Firestone says this will make cross-border road trips unaffordable, forcing Canadians to reconsider driving south to the United States.
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The rise in fuel costs is also impacting air fares, with an increase of “25 to 30 percent,” Firestone said.
“The prices are skyrocketing,” he says. †[Due to] a combination of demand linked to fuel, there are no more cheap flights.”
Toronto resident Reena Kara says that while she feels safer flying again, the long airport lines and high airfares make her “more anxious to travel.”
Booking early is the best choice, experts say.
Weatherhead expects airport backlogs to ease after the summer and recommends booking flights for fall and winter travel from now on.
— With files from Sharmeen Somani, Irelyne Lavery, Reuters and The Canadian Press
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