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[TRAVEL] Crossing the U.S. Customs at the Toronto Pearson International Airport

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Frequent Traveler University conference in Dallas, Texas and had to fly through the Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) before making my way to the final destination. The last time I flew through the Toronto Pearson International Airport for a layover was probably more than 10 years ago, and decided that I would never fly through that airport again because it had caused me a lot of trouble in the past few incidences. Since then, technology has advanced and airports have changed in their flight process and procedures; so I decided I would give it another chance.

First of all, we were taken to the airport’s Automated Border Clearance (ABC) kiosks to clear U.S. customs. The self-service kiosk technology was first introduced in Vancouver and Montreal and has been proven successful, according to a news release by the Canada Border Services Agency, though I cannot say the same for the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Before arrival, I knew that Toronto was a busy airport, so I should not be surprised to see one of the longest line-ups while waiting to cross the U.S. border. As we arrived to the ABC kiosks, it had asked us for our boarding pass to “check” us in. Having doing that, the computer has said that we were cleared to go to “Step 3” (checking in with your boarding pass was the first step). This was another line-up. As we reached the border services officer, she had checked my boarding pass and asked for my declaration card (which should have a picture on it). I did not have one. She had re-directed me back to Step 2 to complete this process. Another line-up. This time it had asked us to enter our passport, declaration card and then answer a few questions. A receipt was then printed out for your records.

 ABC Kiosks

The next step required you to check the screens located in the middle of the room to make sure your name appeared before proceeding to Step 3. Because the Border Services Officer had scanned my boarding pass when I went to Step 3 the first time, so my name did not show up for the screen. I had given it about 15 minutes before I walked over to the help desk to have them tell me I was already cleared to go. It was really frustrating at this point as it was another line-up to give our cleared declaration cards to another Border Services Officer. I looked at the time and there was about half hour until our flight take-off. About 60% of the individuals waiting in Step 3 were re-directed back to Step 2; I could see the frustration in their eyes. If this process was meant to be innovative and to elevate the process at the U.S. Customs Border, I’m not sure Toronto has taken the right steps to making this happen.

For those who plan to travel through the Toronto Pearson International Airport to enter the U.S., you may want to allocate a lot of time for your layover as this process took us a total of an hour and a half. The signs are confusing and the room is set up so that you walk past “step 2” to see if your name has appeared on the screen before you can walk back to “step 2” to continue with the customs process. I normally fly through Vancouver and do not have a problem with their ABC kiosks as signs are clear and each step is created so that you are always moving forward. I’d hope to see Toronto redesign their Automated Border Clearance process to because more user (or rather, flyer) friendly.

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