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Toronto / Europe on Air Canada, Upgrades(?) and Canadian Customs

Toronto / Europe on Air Canada, Upgrades(?) and Canadian Customs

Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 06:53 AM
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Toronto / Europe on Air Canada, Upgrades(?) and Canadian Customs

Hi All,

I am going along as a chaperone on a trip to Europe this week. Its one of those package deals by a "school trip" company. I know that I'm crazy, but the price is right, and these are pretty good kids - have taught most of them, glad to help them to see some of our world.

Well, since the company was probably going for the cheapest routing possible, they have us flying out of Detroit, to Toronto and then over the pond to Paris. On the return we fly out of Rome, to London, and then back through Toronto before getting home to Detroit.

Questions are:

What can we expect as we fly Air Canada? Most old posts seem to put it out there with other typical American companies - lots of complaints, a few who note it in the mediocre category, basically nothing special. Is that pretty much where their service lies these days?

I have found they have upgrade coupons on their website ($70 for two, $140 for four - 48 hour check-in to get the upgrade). Has anyone used these things? Are there fare restrictions which might preclude my cheap fare from taking advantage of them?

Any problems with the current Air Canada bankruptcy situation? (Hate to find ourselves left there looking for a way home...)

Flying through Toronto (Pierson I believe) - What might we expect from Canadian Customs? Will they fly our bags straight through to Detroit so we don't have to play customs games in Canada? (I live on the border with Canada, have found their agents are a huge pain in the ass compared to those on the US side.)

Coming out of Italy I want to bring back my cheeses, dried porccini mushrooms, olive oils, etc... US customs has no problems with these items, will the Canadians have issues? (BTW our flight takes us back through London, England for a one day stopover - hoping this won't be a problem on the return through there either.)

Lots of questions, I know - we really got blindsided on the flight ticketing - their "policy" says that they use major airlines for these trips (haven't found many people who really consider Air Canada a major airline). This time we actually wish we were on Northwest Airlines since Detroit is a big hub, they have more direct flights and we have played the customs games there many times before...

Thanks for any help!!!


KenMi is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 09:01 AM
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I was a bit offended by your post. Being a Canadian who takes pride in the safety of our Country, your reference to the Customs officials being "a pain in the ass" was a bit harsh.
There is a possibility that you won't even have to go through customs if you aren't changing airlines.
Clancy is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 09:13 AM
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Those upgrade coupons are only valid on US and Canadian routes and even then, you have to buy the more expensive flexible fares

"haven't found many people who really consider Air Canada a major airline" - there are millions of Canadians that would consider AC a major airline!

AC's main investor took a hike today. Some feel it is just a negotiation move to get concessions from the unions. Please check the rules with your travel agent re what happens in the event of bankruptcy, but, if it happens, it is more likely to be what they call "an orderly liquidation".

They should check your bags right through. Customs and immigration should not be a problem.
OReilly is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 09:32 AM
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In the past I have found that service in economy/coach on Air Canada has been superior to that of most major US airlines (AA, UAL, US Air, Delta, Northwest) on domestic or transborder flights. I haven't flown trans-Atlantic on a US airline, but I have flown KLM, Air France and Lufthansa trans-Atlantic, and Air Canada was as good as any of them.

I don't know how Air Canada's present financial difficulties will affect service or reliability, but so far, most observers have not seen a deterioration. Many airlines have gone through bankruptcy protection in the past, but clearly it is unsettling for the employees and this could have an effect. Personally, I am booked on Air Canada to Paris in June, and so far I am not concerned about the flight.

I doubt that you can use the upgrade certificates, as they are usually to upgrade from full or near full fare economy, and I expect that you have a heavily discounted fare. You might ask Air Canada, however, just in case.

As for connections in Toronto, with the opening of the new Terminal One on April 6 , things should be much smoother and you should not have to change terminals. Your baggage should be ticketed straight through from Detroit to Paris, and as a transit passenger, you may not need to clear through the Canadian Border Services Agency in Toronto, but I'm not positive on that.

Returning is a bit different. Your bags will be ticketed from London to Toronto where you must claim them and clear through US Immigration and Customs before proceeding to Detroit. Again, I'm not sure whether you will first have to go through the CBSA.

For advice on this, you should call Air Canada, or you could also call Pearson Airport at (416) 247-7678 or (416) 776 -3000.

The biggest hassle I see in your trip is your one-day stopover in London. For me Heathrow has always been a pain.

If you do have to clear through CBSA in Toronto, food might be a problem--especially fresh meat, dairy products and fruit. However, I don't think Canadian regulations are much different from US, except that the US is much more restrictive on fruit imports. You can get the details from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/toc/travoye.shtml

Having said all this, I think that if you get all the pertinent information ahead of time so that you minimize surprises, you will have a great trip.
laverendrye is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 10:06 AM
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You will have to go through customs and immigration in London since you are stopping there for a day. Generally speaking anything that's allowed through Customs here is also allowed in UK and Canada.

On your return trip I believe this is what will happen in Toronto. Since US Customs and Immigration is done at the Toronto airport, you will have to go through Canadian immigration, collect your luggage, go through Canadian customs, walk over to US Customs, drop off your luggage, go through US immigration, and finally board your connecting plane to Detriot. The nice feature of this is, that you will land at a regular domestic terminal in Detroit, so once you collect your luggage you are free to go home. The only difference may be, if Toronto airport has a transfer point, in which case you will not have to deal with Canada immigration and customs, but either way you will still have to collect your luggage for US customs.

AirCanad is definitely a major airline.It flies all over the world. The comfort is on par with most major airlines, somewhat tight, but doable. Service is ok, food is ok. As noted before you can't use the upgrade coupons during your trip for 2 reasons. The coupons are only good on Canada-US routes and the ticket has to be in the higher fare category to begin with, a full fare Y or something very close to full fare.

The bankrupcy thing is always tricky. If it did happen, which I really don't think it will any time soon, other airlines will step in and try to get stranded passengers home, usually for a nominal fee. Your problem would be that you are a group, which always makes it more difficult to accomodate if something were to go wrong. Still, I would not worry too much. You should be fine.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 08:53 PM
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Wow, tons of advice - and so much to help with our planning! Thanks to all who responded with information!

And on those great suggestions...

Thanks OReilly, laverendrye, and AAFrequentFlyer for the info on those upgrade coupons (valid only on US and Canadian routes). Wasn't exactly sure about those when I read the Air Canada website - but I figured it might be something to check out, just in case.

And OReilly, I hadn't heard about 'AC's main investor (who) took a hike today'. Had heard that there was an April 15 deadline, which raised some concerns that we might be caught in a management vs. union battle - as we are scheduled to return the weekend after that "deadline".

Regarding the Customs action at the airport, I'm just hoping that what others mentioned, and AAFrequentFlyer spelled out will happen on our return.

I never knew that there US Customs and Immigration operates in the Toronto Airport! Since we have a couple hours of layover in Toronto it would be much better if we could 'go through Canadian immigration, collect our luggage, go through Canadian customs, walk over to US Customs, drop off our luggage, go through US immigration, and finally board our connecting plane to Detriot'.

One followup to AAFrequentFlyer - I am assuming that when you mention US Customs that would also include the Department of Agriculture inspection?

Thanks laverendrye for the positive thoughts on service in economy/coach on Air Canada. As I mentioned, most of the posts that I read seemed to put it in the same class as typical American companies. I realize that MOST of the time when people mention the service of airlines they will probably be raising some complaints - and so that's what you usually find when you go looking...

And to Clancy - I'm sorry if you were offended with regard to the reference concerning Canadian Customs, perhaps I should have phrased it more tastefully. Our personal experiences shade our views, and I guess some past, as well as recent experiences have coloured mine. I would go so far as to say that most of my experiences entering your country through Sarnia have been considerate - though usually a bit slower than the same route back through US customs due to the number of questions, and the checking of personal identification.

But, I must say that we don't make the trip (and spend money in Ontario) as much as we used to, because of the backups and delays that we are now experiencing here in our border area. Pre 9-11 we normally made the trip a couple of times a month for dinner or other activities. Now, I am lucky to be able to talk my wife into making the crossing once every other month. And the delays we are talking about are predominantly found heading into Ontario - some of those during peak times have been over five miles long. From my personal experience (and news reports) we have not found the same traffic backup entering Michigan. But then, perhaps you are correct, Canada is a safe place, you have not experienced the terrorist acts as we have in the US.

Speaking of past personal experiences - without taking time to go into the stories of my youth (being declared a vagrant, experiencing car searches etc. - and no, I did not do drugs) a recent experience with a 15 minute lecture that I received at the bridge in Windsor (because my guests and I only had state issued drivers licenses when we decided to make the trip to shop) probably did a lot to raise my concern regarding our trip through Toronto.

KenMi is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2004, 11:19 PM
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My experience with US-Europe flights through Toronto is pretty mediocre. Things may have changed, but Air Canada don't deal with this on their site, and the airport website isn't working, so it's pretty clear this problem isn't high on the priority list of the Canadian aviation industry:

- Passengers have to go through the nonsense of dealing with Canadian Immigration, even for an international transfer, both ways. And, unlike Immigration officials at NY, Miami or LAX, who understand about transitting passengers, Canadians cannot get it into their heads that people might want to be in their country for only half an hour. So you actually get a tougher time convincing them you're not trying to smuggle yourself into the country. By far the most officious immigration officials in the English-speaking world. And that's not just me: I once worked for a major UK-headquartered, multinational, whose main US office was in a city without transatlantic flights. Toronto or Montreal were common transit points, and this was a common complain for thousands of us of every nationality.
- by contrast, Canadian Customs are just fine. Canada has a plethora of paranoid rules about just about everything: but I've had officers from the Province headquarters come out to Pearson (KenMi: it really would be polite for you to spell the name of Canada's best known Prime Minster properly) on -25 winter weekend nights to superintend temporary import of things that fell foul of their rules. And not charge us a cent.
- Nonetheless, we always had to clear our baggage at Toronto both ways.

This may have changed, but I note none of the posters above have experience of it.
flanneruk is offline  
Old Apr 4th, 2004, 06:10 AM
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flanneruk - I think the reason why transiting passengers have to go through Canadian Immigration is the same why people transiting through the US have to go through US Immigration. It's because we are probably the only two countries in the world that don't have passport controls for people flying out of our countries. So, there are really no real secured "international connection" or "international departure" areas in American or Canadian airports, where people are technically outside the countries. There's no way around this until we totally refigure our airports to how every other country does it.

As for Canadian airports as a whole, I agree that their signage and layout really doesn't not help US passengers connecting through. One time I flew YQR-YYC-US, and upon arrival at YYC, there is absolutely no sign whatsover where US departure is; and that I am picking up my luggage at a little room to the side of the terminal before proceding to US immigration.

One wonders how much Canada, as a country, missed out on the international business from the US. For example, Canadian Airlines have a great route structure and business in Asia through YVR - and AA invested many million dollars in it. But then, it came to nothing but bankruptcy and sold-out to AC. And AC had never been in good shape...
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