COVID Series: International Connections Through Canada
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
After dozens of questions, and multiple information sources that each give *some* of the relevant information, I went straight to the source for the complete details on what happens when you connect between two other countries with a connection through Canada.
This week, I spoke in detail with a senior spokesperson at the Canada Border Services Agency, and the media-relations teams at Air Canada, asking specific questions about exactly how these connections work, and listed below is a summary of their replies. I've also reached out to local authorities at Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports, where virtually all of these connections are taking place.
Obviously, for the most part we're talking about connections between Europe or Asia and the United States, but the same details remain true for something like a flight from Europe to South America.
So, let's get started!
WHERE CAN I FLY?
- Yes, you can transit through a Canadian airport on your way from one non-Canadian country to another. The COVID-related restrictions on who’s currently barred from entering Canada do not apply in the same way to transit passengers who are only connecting through a Canadian airport without entering Canada.
- No, you almost certainly cannot transit through multiple Canadian airports on your way from one non-Canadian country to another. For example, Seattle to Vancouver to Seoul is allowed; New York to Toronto to Vancouver to Seoul is not.
- All travellers in Canadian airports and/or on Canadian aircraft are required by law to wear a non-medical mask or face covering at all times. Masks or face coverings may be provided upon arrival as appropriate.
- The requirement to complete a PCR COVID test prior to boarding, does not apply to passengers who are only connecting through Canada.
- If you are exhibiting any COVID symptoms, you simply won't be allowed to board any flight by a Canadian airline, regardless of itinerary or destination.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING MY CONNECTION IN CANADA?
- When your flight lands in Canada, you’ll be escorted from your arriving flight, to Canada Customs, to the departure area for your next flight. Barring unusual circumstances like a cancelled connecting flight, or a terminal change, you’ll never clear Canadian customs or officially “enter” Canada.
- Most of Air Canada’s current international flight schedules are designed around making these connections work efficiently; most travellers going to or from the United States will have an hour or two on the ground at the Canadian airport, tops.
- If your connection goes overnight, you can stay in the International or trans-border wings of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports 24 hours a day. Note that most restaurants and services in these areas are NOT open 24 hours a day, so plan ahead during your layover to avoid a sad 4 AM vending-machine picnic. I've done it more than once, it's not great.
- If your connection extends overnight due to an unexpected delay or cancellation, or is an unscheduled charter or repatriation flight, Canada Border Services may, at its discretion, allow you to clear Customs, enter Canada and spend the night in a designated quarantine hotel near the airport, at your cost, and stay in your room until your outbound flight. Or, you can stay in the terminal.
- Any such special permission is still subject to the traveller having a valid visa or Electronic Travel Authorization to enter Canada; that is, the usual pre-COVID border rules still apply.
- If your connection was always scheduled to last overnight, you’re not eligible for a quarantine hotel, and will be required to spend the overnight in the International or Transborder wing of the airport, as relevant to your outbound flight.
If this leaves you with any questions, please reach out to graham AT flyermiles dot ca and I'll do my best to help you track down the answer!