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Home » Daily Life, Housing, Jobs, & Money

Why Canadians fly from US airports

Submitted by on January 30, 2011 – 10:56 am3 Comments

If you’re liv­ing in Canada and plan­ning a trip out­side the coun­try, do you con­sider fly­ing from an air­port in the United States?

If so, you’re not alone.

A recent Globe & Mail arti­cle, “An omi­nous flight pat­tern: Canadians opt­ing for U.S. air­ports,” reported that “Over the past decade, the num­ber of trips taken at U.S. air­ports by Canadians has more than dou­bled.

What’s dri­ving airport-​​bound Canadians to drive over the bor­der? That’s easy — sav­ing money.

As the Globe & Mail arti­cle explained, “one in six Canadians fly­ing to a U.S. des­ti­na­tion are now turn­ing their backs on Canada’s air­ports and tak­ing advan­tage of cheaper American fares.”

But what makes Canada’s fares so high? Here’s the Globe & Mail’s analysis:

With only Air Canada and WestJet offer­ing coast-​​to-​​coast ser­vice, Canada lacks the fierce com­pe­ti­tion among smaller air­lines that forces down fares in the United States.

But direct and indi­rect gov­ern­ment levies remain the biggest rea­sons for Canada’s sky-​​high fares. Ottawa charges mil­lions of dol­lars in rent on the fed­er­ally owned land that major air­ports oper­ate on; it also imposes secu­rity charges, fuel excise taxes and sales taxes.

The var­i­ous levies and charges have steadily risen in recent years and now account for up to 70 per cent of the total fare on domes­tic flights.

So what does that mean for Canadian travelers?

In Vancouver, it means they’re brav­ing the traf­fic and bor­der line-​​ups to drive to Seattle, where dis­count air­lines like Jet Blue and Virgin America have a grow­ing num­ber of flights from Sea-​​Tac International Airport.

It also means more B.C. trav­el­ers are con­sid­er­ing flights from Bellingham, Washington, where Allegiant Air whisks snow­birds south to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and sev­eral California cities.. As the CBC reported, “The num­ber of peo­ple fly­ing out of Bellingham International Airport has increased from 68,000 in 2001 to about 400,000 in 2010 and more than half of those are Canadian.”

Toronto-​​area trav­el­ers are fly­ing from Buffalo, and other south­ern Ontario res­i­dents book flights from Detroit.

South of Montreal, New York’s Plattsburgh International Airport even bills itself as “Montreal’s U.S. Airport,” lur­ing Canadian trav­el­ers with cheap flights on Spirit Airways.

It’s not all gloom and doom for Canadian trav­el­ers. Besides Air Canada and Westjet, some smaller car­ri­ers are begin­ning to make inroads in the Canadian mar­ket, notably Toronto-​​based Porter Airways. Porter flies between east­ern Canadian cities, includ­ing Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and St. John’s, and to a few American destinations.

But in the same way that Canadian shop­pers look for other bar­gains south of the bor­der (see our recent post, “Shopping in Canada, or Why US Expats Miss Target”), it seems like dri­ving south to fly is a Canadian migra­tion that will be with us for some time.

Sea-​​Tac International Airport photo by pray­itno (flickr)


  • Ruth says:

    We are in Kingston and always fly out of Syracuse. It is as close as Ottawa and always cheaper. Plus, cross­ing the bor­der here is a breeze. The high­way to Syracuse is fan­tas­tic. Smooth with very lit­tle traffic.

  • Maurizio Collini says:

    No wan­der! This is my why:
    Living in the east­ern Townships we are only an hour an half away from Burlington air­port a small regional air­port.
    You drive an hour and fif­teen min­utes to get to Trudeau air­port in Montreal but it never hap­pens, the bridge and the rush hour to get there can add up to an extra hour.
    Crossing a land bor­der takes at the most 10 min­utes, there is no rush hour between here and the air­port and no line to present the ticket, you are at the gate in sixty sec­onds.
    Try to get through our Montreal air­port maze, not to men­tion the delay to get to the US pass­port con­trol and the long walk to the gate.
    We are lucky that there is still a great num­ber of humans that like lines as a daily ticket in life!

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