Why You Should Avoid Air Canada for International Trips Originating from the USA

The following is a guest opinion piece from Scott Kennedy, also known as canadiancow. Scott is a software engineer by profession and very well known in the travel community for developing the AC Reward Search Tool

In this article, Scott breaks down a major flaw in Air Canada’s sixth-freedom flights that connect the US to international flights through Air Canada’s major hubs, using a case study to illustrate the issues.

The intent of this article is not to shade Air Canada, but with the hope that it will bring awareness to travelers and perhaps even staff at Air Canada to make changes to rectify these problems. 

Why Would I Fly Air Canada from the USA to International Destinations in the First Place?

Over the past several years, Air Canada has put tremendous effort into attracting traffic from the US to Europe, Asia, and South America. These US to international trips are defined by ICAO as “sixth-freedom” flights.

Air Canada (AC) was also a key player in getting its hubs (Toronto/YYZ, Vancouver/YVR, Montreal/YUL) reconfigured with seamless transit experiences. For flights departing the US to international destinations, you bypass immigration and security. On the return trip, you just have security and US pre-clearance.

The making connections easy page on Air Canada’s website even says “connecting in one of our hubs is often on the way, resulting in shorter elapsed trip times between North America and Europe or Asia. Our network and schedule are built to connect you quickly to your final destination.”

However, you should be extremely wary of booking these types of trips with Air Canada.  Why? Let me tell you a story.

A Trip to Barcelona 

Months ago, a friend told me he wanted to take his mom to Barcelona for Christmas. Both of them would be leaving from San Francisco (SFO), with him eventually returning to SFO, and her returning to Columbus, Ohio (CMH). He wanted to pay for business class.  

As a savvy traveler, I helped him look at his options. There were two reasonable options for price and schedule:


Air Canada routing for SFO-YYZ-BCN-YYZ-SFO/CMH shown on Great Circle Mapper

United Airlines: SFO-EWR-BCN-EWR-SFO/CMH

United Airlines routing for SFO-EWR-BCN-EWR-SFO/CMH shown on Great Circle Mapper

Even though he was a United Airlines Premier Gold member, he’d had great experiences on Air Canada in the past. So he went with the Air Canada option.

Schedule Changes

Booking eight months out, we knew there would be numerous schedule changes. The big issue, in this case, was that Air Canada stopped serving Barcelona (BCN). On the outbound, that means an extra connection in Zurich.  On the return, the Barcelona (BCN) to Columbus (CMH) itinerary meant that my friend’s mom wouldn’t arrive in Toronto early enough to catch the outbound Columbus flight. As a result, it was rebooked as BCN-FRA-YYZ-IAD-CMH.  That’s two extra connections and about 10 hours of additional travel time.

Air Canada routing for BCN-FRA-YYZ-IAD-CMH shown on Great Circle Mapper

The Over-Water Policy

Naturally, I called in to straighten these out and get them rebooked through Newark (EWR) on United Airlines so that they could shift the itinerary back to one connection and a reasonable travel time.  But the agent told me the over-water segment must be on Air Canada. They can’t fly BCN-EWR on United. For reference, the most up-to-date travel agent schedule change policy reflects this rule.  

The agent helpfully offered Barcelona to Frankfurt, an overnight, and FRA-YYZ-CMH.  That would require an unplanned overnight stay in a country they had no intention of visiting and result in them getting home a day later.

I tried escalating this, but Air Canada wouldn’t budge. The over-water flight must be operated by Air Canada, and since BCN isn’t served by them, both itineraries became much less pleasant than what was originally booked.

In Conclusion: You Should Avoid Air Canada for International Trips Originating from the USA 

If we had booked with United in the first place, there would be no issue maintaining a one-stop itinerary through any potential schedule changes.  But instead, this United Premier Gold member (who pays for business class) decided to give Air Canada a chance on this vacation and ended up with major regrets.  Of course, he’s not going to do it again, and as a result, I can no longer recommend Air Canada to anyone flying from the US to another continent.

AC can talk about the seamless transit experience all they want, but if they’re unwilling to book on even their Atlantic Joint Venture Partners (UA, LH, LX, OS, SN) when they have a massive schedule change (and for an airport like Columbus, it doesn’t take much of an itinerary change to break that connection), then what’s the point?

Just stick with United Airlines if you’re flying from the US to international destinations.

Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy, also known as canadiancow on FlyerTalk, is is a software engineer by profession and very well known in the travel community for developing the AC Reward Search Tool. 


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2 comments on “Why You Should Avoid Air Canada for International Trips Originating from the USA

  1. Hmmm…the “over water” rule is something I’m dealing with, for the ex-BKK Latitude mistake fares from the springtime.

    Since the TPAC segment must be operated by AC, and not an Asian carrier, or United, it’s really screwing up my travel plans, especially since the latest schedule change to the ex-HKG sector flips the AM/PM around (12 hour change) and is messing up my connecting sectors!!! Grrrr!!!

    • There’s a BKK-YVR non-stop starting December 1 that might work if your travel is later this year or next year.