December 28 2011 by Bryson Forbes
My anecdotal research, which relies on a visual scan of license plates in the long-term parking lot, confirms the more sophisticated research the Hotel Association of Canada has conducted. According to its studies, upwards of 20 percent of passengers who depart from Buffalo are Canadians.
Our decision to fly out of Buffalo rather than Toronto's Pearson International Airport on our way to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a warm-weather Christmas was a pretty easy one. Based on cost alone it was a complete "no-brainer" for my family.
To book a direct flight on Southwest Airlines for the five members of the Forbes clan, we paid approximately US$400 per person, including the US$10 upgrade for better seats. The only direct-flight option to Phoenix from Toronto was Air Canada - at a cost of $900 (Cdn) per ticket.
The prospect of saving more than $2,400 (Cdn) on the flight, along with paying significantly less for long-term parking, was enough reason to pack the kids in the car and drive to Buffalo.
Outside of the monetary advantages, the airport experience is vastly different. Buffalo is much smaller and less intimidating, especially travelling with kids. In fact, we checked in outside after waiting less than five minutes and went through security in ten minutes. Try that at Pearson!
Opponents of flying from Buffalo point to the drive as a major obstacle. If the weather is bad, as can be the case this time of year, the drive can be long and difficult. Most of the time, weather is a non-factor. We found ourselves at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge that crosses the Niagara River within an hour - a quick drive from our Toronto home - with no delays at the U.S. border.
Clearing customs in your own vehicle is easier than clearing customs at the airport. As a side benefit, I always fill up on gas and grab a few bottles of wine at a deep discount before driving back into Canada.
I will admit that at times I feel some guilt about taking business out of the country, but given the financial savings and enhanced customer experience, I find the guilt subsides quickly. It also provides pressure on the Canadian government to improve conditions at our domestic airports.
Based on the number of Ontario license plates I saw in long-term parking at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, I know there are a lot of you out there. Have you had a similar experience when flying from the U.S. border airports?