Having more border pre-clearance locations at Canadian airports and train stations means a smoother ride for people heading to the U.S., according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
There’s “no downside” for travellers, said Rob Taylor, vice-president of public and industry affairs for TIAC.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama announced Thursday that they plan to offer pre-inspection for U.S.-bound travellers at the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto and the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City. Border pre-screening will also be provided at two train stations: Montreal’s Gare Centrale and the Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver.
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Currently, pre-clearance is offered at airports in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg and Toronto’s Pearson Airport. There is also limited pre-screening at the main Vancouver train station, though further checks are still required at the border.
The new additions mean that travellers will be cleared by American border officials before boarding their flight or train, rather than at the arrival city or at the border itself.
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For airplane passengers, this means waiting in a line at the Canadian departure airport, rather than queuing at customs in the destination city with every other traveller on every other flight. You would be able to walk right off the plane and out of the airport.
“Porter has supported U.S. Customs Preclearance at Billy Bishop Airport for some time,” wrote Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines in a statement. Porter is based at the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto. “Billy Bishop is a logical addition to the existing U.S. Customs Preclearance program. Canadian and American officials worked hard to finalize this agreement. We thank both governments for making it a priority.”
Similarly, pre-clearance facilities at train stations mean that trains would no longer be delayed en-route as the train is stopped and passengers are checked out by customs officials.
“If you get cleared before you get on the train, it’s so much easier than having to stop that trip halfway through,” said Taylor.
“We’ve all been on a train or a bus or something where one person doesn’t have their affairs in order and everybody is slowed down.”
Pre-clearance also makes sense from a security perspective, he said, because, “They can intercept people before they cross the border.”
Steve Sammut, president of Rocky Mountaineer, a company that runs train tours along the west coast said he’s “delighted” by the announcement that there will be pre-clearance at his company’s station.
Currently, through a special arrangement with U.S. customs, their trains get to Seattle without stopping and customs officers board the train and check passengers as they disembark.
Having passengers checked before boarding will make the trip more pleasant, he said.
“We’re about guest experience. We think this provides the opportunity to give a much better level of guest experience. If they’re going through before they get on board, that’s done. We can focus on taking care of them.”
But while it might make the travel experience more pleasant, the changes are unlikely to directly encourage more tourism, said Taylor. “I don’t think it will be an incentive to travel,” he said. But, for someone who’s on the fence, anything that makes travel easier will help, he thinks.
Sammut takes a slightly brighter view. “Anything we can do to make travel easier is a good thing,” he said.
“If we can find ways to get people back and forth between our countries in a more efficient way, that’s something that helps to promote the whole tourism experience.”
There’s no clear timeline on when the new pre-clearance locations will be open, though a consultation group will be convened within 90 days, according to a spokesperson for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. That working group will also consider expanding pre-clearance even further, including to cargo.