New Law Could Trim Travel Time Between Canada and U.S.

A newly-signed federal law is aimed at streamlining travel between Canada and some U.S. destinations, including Vermont's Burlington International Airport.

The steps still must be finalized on the other end by Canadian lawmakers, but assuming they go through, the development could shave an hour or longer off the deplaning process of flights from Canada landing in Burlington.

Porter Airlines' twice-weekly winter flights from Toronto to Vermont's Burlington International Airport are popular with tourists and business travelers, but they do come with a bit of a headache.

"It's always somewhat onerous to go through customs, absolutely," said traveler David Munroe.

Today, flights from Canada don't go to the main Burlington Airport terminal. They first head for a separate facility, on the other side of the property. There, passengers must clear customs, adding an hour or more to their journeys.

But now, new rules written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and authorized by President Obama, could trim that time, and enable travelers to go through the main terminal to get their luggage or find transportation to their final destination.

The law expands pre-clearance stations operated by U.S. Customs & Border Protection, so travelers could go through those required checks before even leaving the ground in Canada.

"I can't tell you how important what we're doing today is, to be considerate of the traveling public," said Burlington Airport aviation director Gene Richards. "This is a real big deal."

Richards said at least one passenger on essentially every flight from Canada has complained about having to go through the other facility for customs.

Handling customs checks before leaving Canada would also benefit national security, Sen. Leahy predicted.

"In 2014, pre-clearance stopped more than 10,000 inadmissible visitors before they left foreign soil," Leahy said. "But for the travelers that flew in today on Porter Airlines' first flight of the winter, we want them to deplane right here [in the primary airport terminal], not across the tarmac."

Leahy said the move should make travel more appealing, providing a boost to tourism-dependent businesses in Vermont and facilitating business travel between the neighboring countries.

Leahy also said the move could inspire new or additional air travel routes.

The legislation also enables discussions about restoring Amtrak rail service between Vermont and Montreal; service that hasn't been available since the 1990s.

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