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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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