Thousands of Canadian families are preparing to travel next week for March Break on what is typically one of the busiest travel periods for the year.
As COVID-19 wanes, more people are expected to jet off in 2023 compared to any other year in the pandemic. Searches for March and April flights were up by 40 per cent this year compared to the same period last year, according to data published by Expedia in February. All this, despite higher airfares compared to last year, rising inflation and a looming recession.
Talk about some strong wanderlust.
For many Canadian jetsetters, however, the travel nightmares from last summer and this December probably still linger.
Now, experts say those travel issues, particularly at Pearson Airport, could strike again next week, as travel ramps up during March Break. Plus, there’s more messy weather on the way.
“March Break is one of the top three busiest travel times in the year right,” said travel expert Barry Choi. “So, am I expecting delays and travel chaos at the airports? Yeah, I think it’s fair to assume that.”
So ahead of the busy travel week, Choi and passenger rights advocate Gábor Lukács share their top travel tips to help ensure a smooth vacation.
Skip delays by flying in the early morning or mid-afternoon
Airports are typically most busy in the mornings, anywhere from 8 a.m. to around noon, said Choi. During that period, you can expect longer lines and more airport delays.
Choi’s preferred departure time is between noon and 5 p.m. “The odds are the lines won’t be nearly as long and it’ll be less stressful overall,” he said.
The only drawback, he notes, is that you’ll likely arrive at your destination (if it’s in North America or the Caribbean) in the evening or at night.
If you’re an early riser and willing to wake up before the crack of dawn, Choi said selecting an early morning flight (we’re talking like 6 a.m.) can also have its benefits. Those flights, usually the first of the day, are less prone to delays since the plane is already at the airport. As well, the airport should be pretty quiet during those hours.
Don’t forget your travel insurance
“Travel insurance is a must regardless of how long or how far you’re going,” said Choi. In the event something goes awry during a trip, having travel insurance offers some security and peace of mind to travellers, he stressed.
“Just the cost of medical care in different parts of the world can be very expensive, so you want to make sure you have that covered,” he said.
Choi noted many employers’ benefits programs will include travel insurance. Some credit cards, especially travel rewards programs, will have a form of insurance. Every single policy is different, said Choi, so he recommends reading the fine print in detail.
If you want to sit together on your flight, book advanced seat selection now
For most economy class passengers, advanced seat selection costs extra. But if you want to ensure that you and your travel companions are sitting together on your upcoming flight, it’s worth it to pay that fee and select those seats now, said Choi.
(Even celebrities make that mistake, as Chance the Rapper recently found out when he and his daughter weren’t sitting together on a flight, and were saved by a generous Martin Short.)
Flights this March Break, especially to Sun destinations, will likely be full, and there’s no guarantee travel companions will be seated together, Choi said. If travellers are willing to wait until online check-in — usually 24 hours before departure — to select their seats for free, Choi recommends passengers do so right when that option becomes available.
“As soon as check-in opens, you should be choosing your seat,” he said. “If you’re waiting even a few hours later, I don’t like your odds.”
Both Choi and Lukács highlight, however, that airlines are required under federal regulation to seat children under 14 near a guardian at no additional charge. Children age four and under must be seated adjacent to their guardian, while children between five and 11 must be seated in the same row as their guardian, separated by no more than one seat. Children aged 12 or 13 must not be separated from their parent or guardian by more than a row.
Reserve a security screening slot in advance at Pearson airport
If you’re flying out of Pearson Airport to anywhere except the U.S., you can reserve a security screening slot in advance using YYZ Express, Choi noted. The reservation system is free and opens 72 hours before departure. Passengers can also sign up after arriving at the airport, though slots are limited.
If you’re travelling to the U.S., download the Mobile Passport Control app
Passengers travelling across the border can download the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Mobile Passport Control app to submit their passport and customs declaration information in advance, said Choi.
The app is free to use and will reduce passport control inspection times. U.S. citizens and most Canadian citizens can use the service, which is available at 44 U.S. international airports and eight Canadian pre-clearance locations, including Pearson Airport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on its website that travellers using the app will be directed to a specific lane for a “streamlined entry process.”
Pack lightly and double-check your airline’s baggage restrictions
Airlines are clamping down on oversized and overweight carry-on bags. If you’re travelling this March Break, you may be asked to fit your luggage in a baggage sizer, said Choi. That’s why travellers need to double-check their baggage allowance before heading to the airport.
Generally for a one-week getaway, travellers should avoid checked luggage. That will reduce the risk of lost or delayed baggage. “Be smart about your packing,” said Choi, adding travellers should consider using packing cubes — small bags that compress clothes tightly, offering more bag space for extra items.
Flight delayed or cancelled? Document everything
In the event of a flight disruption, Lukács said passengers should document everything.
“The main thing in the short term is to document what’s happening around you, take a photograph of the departures board and record your interactions with airline agents,” said Lukács, who founded Air Passenger Rights, which helps passengers understand their rights. “Make sure that you have those as they can be evidence for future use.”
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