Canadians planning to travel this summer, “Be patient.”
That’s the advice from a travel expert in Toronto, where unusually long queues at airports and passport offices continue to cause delays across the country.
Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker, said that after two years of COVID-19 restrictions, there is “pent-up demand for travel,” with interest rising “very close” to pre-pandemic levels.
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“The dilemma now is that the infrastructure at both the airports and the passport offices is not meeting 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 experienced hours of security queues, customs jams and other delays.
Airports Board of Canada blames COVID-19 protocols for the disruption, 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 “massive lineups,” Firestone said his advice to his clients is to get to the airport early — at least three to four hours before the flight.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) expects a nearly 50 percent increase in international passengers at Pearson, Canada’s busiest airport, this summer.
While Canada has relaxed its travel restrictions this year, some remain at points of entry, including random COVID-19 testing on arrival.
All arriving passengers are also required to submit their vaccination and travel information on the ArriveCAN app and show it to border officials upon landing.
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Travel experts say staffing issues at airports as well as COVID-19 protocols and increased travel demand are contributing to business backlogs and hampering the flow of traffic into the country.
Jennifer Weatherhead, co-founder of Travel & Style, recommends preparing mentally for delays.
“You really need to look at the exact airport you’re going to and where you’re going back,” she told Global News.
“And if you’re calling through any other country or any other airport, try to give yourself as much time as possible.”
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Passengers have to sit for two to three hours in the plane even after landing, which is “very troublesome,” Firestone said, adding that such delays will prevent many from making plans this summer.
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He said people should be prepared for a three-hour lag from landing to leaving the airport.
For booking flights, early morning may not be your best bet to avoid trouble because security lines and customs just open, according to Weatherhead.
“If you can search for something in the middle of the morning or later in the day, see if you have one possible change fee as you are not charged to change that all at once,” she said.
Possession of a valid passport is a prerequisite for travel anywhere in the world.
“You can’t travel if your passport has less than six months left on it 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’s seeing a high number of calls right now and wait times are longer than usual.
“If you do not have travel plans in the next two weeks, we suggest that you wait to contact us,” the agency says on its website.
Amid the delays, we urge Canadians to obtain their renewed passport before any flights are completed or booked. If you can’t get your passport in time, your travel insurance won’t cover the trip cancellation, Firestone warned.
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Rising fuel prices amid high inflation in Canada and the war in Ukraine mean that travel will be more expensive this year.
As of Sunday, the average price of gas in Canada was $1.97 a liter, according to GasBuddy.
Provinces like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia saw price hikes of at least $2.00 per liter, with the latter remaining at $2.15 per liter on Sunday. Average gas prices in Newfoundland and Labrador were $2.18 per liter. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, prices are under $2.00 a liter, according to GasBuddy.
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The cost of gas has skyrocketed since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, and it is still expected to be very expensive during the summer. This will make cross-border road trips prohibitively expensive, Firestone says, forcing Canadians to rethink driving south to the United States.
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Higher fuel costs are also having an impact on airfares, with an increase of “25 to 30 percent,” according to Firestone.
“The prices are out of line,” he said. “[Due to] A combination of demand combined with fuel, and there are no more cheap flights.”
Toronto resident Rina Kara says that while she was feeling safer flying again, the long airport lines and higher airfares made her “feel more anxious to travel.”
Experts say booking your ticket early is the way to go.
Weatherhead expects the backlog at airports to slow after the summer and recommends booking flights starting in the fall and winter.
— With files from Charmaine Somani, Irilene Lavery, Reuters and the Canadian press
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