Tight U.S. border gives Canada a boost up as global crossroads

Pity the poor business traveler who needs to get from London to Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important commercial centres after Mexico City itself. Virtually every itinerary produced by a flight search engine requires connecting via the United States.

The same rule normally applies if you’re trying to get from Frankfurt to Guadalajara, or from Hong Kong to Mexico City — unless you fly via Europe, which is the long way around the world.

That is bad news for many travelers these days. Not only has U.S. Customs and Border Protection become more demanding of travelers since 9/11, the agency often being accused of treating even vacationers as potential terrorists. It has also cut back on airport staffing due to budget cuts, resulting in complaints of missed connections and of passengers needing two to four hours just to get out of the airport after their flight arrives, even if they have nothing to declare and everything else goes smoothly.

Unlike many global air hubs, U.S. airports generally do not have international transit facilities that exempt passengers merely passing through the country from having to go through full Customs and Immigration checks. Instead, these passengers must be fully screened and be formally admitted to the United States before immediately leaving again.

If an airline offered a bypass that allowed travelers to get from Latin America to Europe or Asia — or vice-versa — without having to go through all this hassle, it could get away with charging a premium, and profiting nicely from it.

The same goes for the airports and the local border authorities, who would benefit from collecting the associated fees added on to the ticket.

Canada could very well become the main beneficiary of America’s border problems. Our major airports have already been redesigned with express lanes to make sure that connecting passengers make their flights; and facilities that allow passengers flying from Europe or Asia to the U.S. via Canada to go directly from their flight into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening facility right in the airport, without having to go through Canadian border formalities.

These passengers can then disembark at their U.S. destination already having been cleared to enter the U.S., and be out of the airport and on their way into town within minutes instead of hours.

Airports such as Toronto and Montreal have also set up dedicated international gates, which could be the first step to allowing passengers just passing through Canada between Latin America and Europe or Asia to do so without needing to have their passport stamped or to fill out a declaration form.

If you need to get between Mexico and the rest of the world, Canada is often right along the way. (Source: Great Circle Mapper -- gcmap.com)

If you need to get between Mexico and the rest of the world, Canada is often right along the way. (Source: Great Circle Mapper — gcmap.com)

Further signs that Canada might be aiming to position itself strategically as a crossroads between Europe, Asia and the Americas come in a late-breaking development, reported on by the National Post:

Trade Minister Ed Fast, who is also travelling on Harper’s plane, has been authorized by the federal cabinet to sign an expanded airline access agreement with Mexico, The Canadian Press has learned.

That agreement would allow Mexican airlines greater access to greater cities, and Canadians more direct flights to Mexico.

The expanded air access would likely be a precursor to the Conservative government eventually lifting the controversial visa it slapped on Mexican travellers in 2009 to combat an increase of bogus asylum seekers.

Currently, any airline wishing to open up new regularly scheduled routes between Canada and Mexico must already be authorized to do so under a bilateral agreement that dates back to the Sixties, or make arrangements to have that agreement modified.

Yet this new agreement just announced is not just about linking Canada with Mexico. Canada is very close to the direct line path between Mexico and both Europe and Asia. A Monterrey-London journey via Toronto, for example, barely adds a mile to the total journey; a Monterrey-Hong Kong journey via Vancouver is a fraction of a percent longer than the straight line distance.

Loosening up those restrictions could establish Canada as the best transfer point between Latin America and the vitally important European and Asian markets. That not only has the potential to be good for Canada’s airlines and airports; it could also be good for the Canadian economy as well by positioning ourselves as a logical place to do business if you need fairly easy access to Europe, Asia, Latin America or the United States.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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