POLITICS

Ottawa Says Air Travel To U.S. To Get Easier

12/22/2011 10:27 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST
AFP/Getty Images

Canadians with a Nexus card will soon be able to use it to fly to the United States, allowing them to pass through security at airports faster, the federal government said Thursday.

Steven Fletcher, minister of state for transport, and other Conservative MPs and ministers held events at airports across the country to remind Canadians about the government's efforts to make air travel easier. They also highlighted changes to baggage screening for travellers to the United States.

The Nexus program has been in place for several years and it expedites customs and immigration processing when crossing the Canada-United States border by air, land or sea. In 2010, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority launched a pilot program at three airports that allowed Nexus cardholders to access designated security screening lines.

The experiment only included domestic and international flights, not those to the United States. Once deemed successful, the special "trusted traveller" lines were set up in eight airports earlier this year.

"And now, thanks to this agreement Canadians travelling to the United States will also be able to use their Nexus cards to expedite screening at eight airports that have pre-screening checkpoints to the United Sates," Fletcher said. The screening lines are considered an additional benefit for Nexus members because they cut down on wait times at security lines.

"These changes will take effect just in time for spring break," he said.

The Nexus program is available at the airports in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The existing benefits for Nexus members travelling by air to the United States involved using self-serve kiosks instead of standing in line to speak to a border or customs agent in the pre-clearance areas before moving on to the security screening areas. The kiosks have cameras that use iris recognition biometric technology. A touch screen on the machine is then used to answer standard questions.

It costs $50 to apply for membership in the program and a card is valid for five years. Applications must be approved by the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If the eligibility requirements are met, a card will be issued within about six to eight weeks.

"I encourage you to apply now for the Nexus card and soon your passenger screening will be faster for both domestic and US travel," Fletcher said.

The government is hoping to have the expanded program complete by February 2012.

Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of Canada or the United States and must have lived in the country for three consecutive years. People with a serious criminal record or who have violated immigration, customs or agriculture laws are not eligible.

Speeding travel between the two countries was one of the key points made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama when they announced a "roadmap" for a new trade and security deal on Dec. 7.

In particular, the framework deal commits the two countries to ending the practice of re-screening baggage already cleared by security at Canadian airports when connecting flights are made in the United States.

Fletcher also highlighted that change Thursday, saying it will be phased in over the next three years.

"Once implemented it will make for a better travel experience, faster and more efficient for those who do business travel on a regular basis across the Canada-United States border," he said.

The border security agreement also promises greater harmonization of Canadian and U.S. security measures, rules to govern the sharing of information, upgrades to border infrastructure and the removal of some cross-border trade barriers.

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