Trouble with Toronto Airport Customs

July 8, 2014

in Airport Stories

I was flying with my fiancé on AA from Los Angeles to Helsinki, Finland. We had a 50 minute stop over at Toronto airport on June 22, 2014 on our way to Helsinki on a Finnair flight.

They make all passengers go through customs and go through immigration even if you are in TRANSIT!!! The Canadian immigration interview lady was a bitch. She kept asking why we were coming to Canada. I told her that we were not coming to Canada, but were in transit to a Finnair plane that was leaving in about 50 minutes to Helsinki, Finland, and that we were getting married in Finland. I have American and Finnish passports and my fiancé has a Chinese passport and an American Green Card.

Then she – the bitch – marked my customs forms with a red pen and said that I had to explain that in an extra interview, and she made me and my fiancé go through the extra immigration line. About 50 people were in line in a separate room – all of them were Asian people who were going to Canada.

I asked an officer why we were in this line; they replied, “Who knows, but you will definitely NOT MAKE your flight.” The officer said that we would now have to stay at the airport until the next flight to Finland. They have only one flight a week, so they really tried screwing up our lives, and tried to make us be in airport prison in Canada for a week.

I told the 50 people in line that our flight was in 40 minutes; they let me go in the front of the line. The interviewer asked why we were in this line as we were only in TRANSIT, not coming to Canada. Then we made it to customs where we had to carry our checked luggage again. Then we gave our luggage to a baggage handler who refused to take our luggage as there was only 15 minutes until the plane left. We started running to the gate and just made it to the plane in time, totally exhausted.

Please DO NOT never fly through Canada; TORONTO has THE WORST CUSTOMS in the whole world as I have been traveling 30 years around the world!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick July 9, 2014 at 12:44 am

"They make all passengers go through customs and go through immigration even if you are in TRANSIT!!!" is true of the USA too so I don't know why that is so outrageous to you. It's generally an accepted fact of air travel in the USA, and evidently in Canada too based on your experience. Given that, a longer layover might be of benefit to you next time you transit through a country with strict immigration procedures so that you are not desperately trying to make your connection in a short period of time.

That said, if you guys were singled out for the fact that your fiance has a Chinese passport (you imply that by stating that the line was full of Asian people trying to enter Canada) as opposed to because they had suspicious about either one of you as a person (rather than as an anonymous nationality) that does suck.


James July 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

On the other hand, if it is the custom, (I'd add Japan to this list, BTW, I've had cursory passport checks there when changing planes.) you'd think the immigration officials would know how to handle passengers in transit. Such as, "Please show me your boarding pass or connecting ticket" and that ought to be enough to prove one's intent to transfer.


Nick July 9, 2014 at 10:29 am

For sure, and most places do actually make you do that when you change planes. It's been a few years since I've transited through the US and Canada so things might have changed now, but they seem to do the whole thing in a different way to most other places I've transited through. In pretty much every other country I've connected through (Middle Eastern countries, Asian countries, Australia) you get dumped out back in the departure lounge once you've shown your boarding pass and therefore are going to find it pretty hard to ditch the connecting flight and sneak off out of the airport. In contrast, transit in America (or at least every time I've done it in the last few years) seems to involve actually going out into the main part of the airport, where you would then technically be in a position to wander off out of the airport. Perhaps that's why they're more suspicious of people connecting, as they really need to confirm their intent to get on the next flight. That's always been an annoyance of mine and the main reason I avoid connecting through the States at all costs as it is just so time consuming and adds that extra bit of stress into a journey without seeming to add any extra level of security.


Sock Puppeteer August 13, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Another example with flights in to Japan, You can have a through flight at Narita, ie IAD to SIN, land to refuel, exit the plane, go through immigration and passport control, and then funnel back to the same gate you just went through and re-board the same plane! Had to do this on both UA890 and UA891.


lnelson1218 July 9, 2014 at 10:56 am

Once going to Ireland through one of the London airports, I did have to go through UK immigration to get to Ireland, and I don't mean Northern Ireland, which I would have understood. I found that a little strange as I had used London as a transfer point to other European cities without having to go through immigration.
Naturally I had to go through Irish immigration once I got to Ireland as well.

Sounds like the immigration officer was either just stupid or on a stupid power trip.


madachode July 10, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Do you look normal or dress like a hipster wanting the unnecessary attention?


Bibliobear July 12, 2014 at 8:42 am

Customs agents are humans too, as a general rule. The agent who dealt with you might have just encountered someone before you who mistreated him. Jobs that force you to deal with the public can be REALLY stressful. On the other hand, most of my less-than-nice experiences with customs/immigration agents have been in Toronto. Absolutely the worst was at DFW. One of the male passengers had a hissy fit because a flight attendant wouldn't let him through the curtains to use a business-class john. All the male passengers traveling alone were taken aside and sent through customs separately. We were all given the third degree. The agents were apparently convinced they were going to find illegal drugs with one of us. (arriving from London? give me a break!) My prescription drugs were given the fine-toothed comb treatment. Who knows if this was because of the hissy-fitter, or possibly because they had a tip about someone and only had a general physical description. The point is: you never know what's going on behind the scenes. I'm hoping for better experiences now that I'm enrolled in Global Entry.


Trixi July 15, 2014 at 4:25 pm

50 minutes is NEVER enough time for a connection, even if you're on a domestic flight.


shira July 19, 2014 at 4:39 am

If you've been traveling around the world for thirty years you should know that (a) fifty minutes is not enough time to make an international connection and (b) you have to go thru customs even when you are just making a connection. I don't know why the security agent singled you out but they are doing their best to keep our skies safe and while we may not always get it, they are doing their job. I've been pulled out of line and frisked or gone through special interviews for no apparent reason other than I fit some profile or another. But for the most part I find that airport security agents are polite.


Tony July 31, 2014 at 11:12 am

When flying in Transit internationally through Toronto you do need to speak to customs officials on the way from one area to another in the terminal However, you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the regular customs line for people returning to Canada. Right before the customs you would have either gone down some stairs or an escalator.

What you missed was on the left there are 2 security/custom officers that would have checked your passport and ticket and then let you through to international departing area with no fuss. this process only takes about 2 minutes as there is typically less than 10 people in that line

The reality is you made a wrong turn — now when you ended up in front of customs officer to gain access to Canada where it is not really their concern with how you go there and what your future plans were.


Jon September 16, 2014 at 5:58 am

I actually had a very similar experience at Newark air port a few years ago where I still had to go through an amazing number of security checks between leaving one flight and getting straight onto another. I did make my plane, but the process did seem crazy seeing as I was just passing through.


Krista October 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm

In the USA you have to go through Customs/Immigration no matter what. Paris you have to go through the hug security line. Casablanca every one had to go through immigration but I doubt anyone passes through there to get to another country. Amsterdam was a piece of cake as you arrive into the departure area. I wouldn’t allow only 50 minutes even in the USA with a domestic plane change or Amsterdam.


Jennifer R. Povey December 30, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I've done that transfer in Toronto, including customs, in 40 minutes. I have absolutely NO clue how they got us through (with our luggage). I'd planned a three hour stopover, knowing I'd have to deal with customs and uncheck and recheck baggage, but our plane in Calgary couldn't take off because the wing de-icer system broke and it took them a couple of hours to find us working equipment…

So, it can certainly be done, but I would not recommend it.


Peter March 6, 2016 at 6:28 pm

I would discourage everybody to use Toronto as a connection airport if you are flying from a different country. coming from Zurich going to Ottawa I lined up eight times in various queues. People moving is inefficient and there are at least two lineups which, as far as I can see, serve no purpose whatsoever. Certain queues allow people to, inadvertently, jump the queu. The system is poorly thought out and travellers should complain loud and clear or avoid this place. Most civilized places would not put up with it.


David June 27, 2017 at 7:16 pm

I live in Canada…. And I won't fly into Toronto again from an international location. It's such a bloody headache going through all these intolerable lines. I fly all the time, and recently all through Europe. Foreign countries gave me better treatment than my own. How's that for absurd?
Welcome home… I'll take my double double and forget coming back to Pearson ever again.


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