How to Conquer Pearson Airport

10 things you need to know before travelling through Pearson Airport.

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Named after former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Lester B. Pearson, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is by far the biggest and busiest airport in Canada.  With thousands of flights daily and over 50 million people passing through each year, Pearson Airport can be a hectic place.  Here are a few tips on how to survive the madness

1. Take the train

Getting to the airport can be extremely stressful, especially when trying to battle through Toronto’s rush-hour chaos.  Why not rid yourself of the burden and take the new UPExpress. The train runs directly from Union Station to Pearson’s  Terminal 1. Delightfully comfortable and surprisingly affordable the UPExpress departs every 15 minutes and costs around $12CDN for a one-way trip. 

2. If you must drive, park like a pro

Check out the Park N Fly self-park or economy lots for cheap but convenient parking options that offer frequent shuttles with door to door service.  There’s even a valet parking option if you don’t want to deal with the added hassle of picking up or parking your own car. To secure a 20% discount, don’t forget to bring your CAA card and present it upon payment.

3. Lounge and save money

A great way to relax your nerves before a long flight is to enjoy one of the airport’s almost dozen lounges.  Get some respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowds and avoid the exorbitant food and beverage prices. Some lounges offer private showers and other great amenities to help guests freshen up and relax – a wonderful perk during long layovers. Just be aware that not all lounges are made equal. An affordable way to check out if lounge-life is right for you is to get a credit card that offers a few free lounge passes each year. Otherwise, lounges typically start at around $40 and go up from there. The price might seem a bit steep at first, but it’s worth it when you consider all of the “free” perks including the unlimited food and alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages.

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4. Take in the full YYZ experience

Don’t make your next trip to Pearson Airport (YYZ) about just getting from A to B.  An international airport is an experience in and of itself. Give yourself a bit of time to check out some great restaurants, high-end shops, art exhibits and VIP services.  Here’s just a few things to check out!

5. Elevate your luggage game

Skip the huge suitcase and pack only a carry on (my personal favourite is Dakine’s Status roller). Sounds crazy, right?  Travelling with just a carry on can be a lifesaver. Not only will your luggage definitely NOT get lost in transit, but you can skip the ridiculously long check-in queues and the madness of the luggage carousel upon arrival. Just be aware of the liquids you’re packing.  100ml (3.3 ounces) is the maximum size allowed for any one bottle, so plan ahead, leave the oversized bottles at home, and put everything in an easily accessible clear plastic bag. 

6. Skip the lines

Pearson Airport is notorious for having painfully slow and frustrating security and customs lines.  If you’re even a moderately frequent traveller to the US, a Nexus card can be a lifesaver. A nexus membership costs around $60CDN and lasts for 5 years.  The application process can be a bit drawn out, but the upfront hassle is absolutely worth it.

7. Check in 24 hours in advance

Checking in 24 hours in advance and keeping up to date with your flight status will help prevent any unpleasant surprises upon arriving at your gate.  The last thing you want is to arrive at the airport and show up for a significantly delayed, or even worse, a cancelled flight. Checking in 24 hours in advance will give you the added bonus of selecting your preferred seat (at no additional cost) before everyone else snaps up the good spots.

8. Give yourself time

No matter how well laid your plans are things can always go wrong. Give yourself enough time to adjust your plans if something comes up.  Aim to be at the airport 90 minutes before domestic flights and at least 2 hours before for international flights. There’s certainly no harm in arriving early and spending some extra time exploring the airport or relaxing in a lounge.

9. Know your terminal & gate number

Take a few minutes and plan ahead before heading off to the airport.  Know which terminal you need to go to and which gate you’re departing from. The last thing you want to be doing an hour before boarding time is frantically running between terminals or darting from gate to gate. Don’t assume what is printed on your boarding pass is gospel; a few hours before your flight is scheduled to depart, check your flight status to make sure nothing has changed.  Here are the terminal maps to help you navigate your way through the behemoth that is YYZ.

10. Use the free airport WiFi and charging ports

Low on battery?  No worries, Pearson has plenty of charging ports and comfortable areas to sit down and charge your device.  You can also charge up your portable charger for extra long flights (my favourite is the Anker Powercore portable charger). While you’re re-energizing your device, don’t forget to use the free airport wifi to download a couple audio books, a movie, or a few TV shows to make the flight a bit more enjoyable. With the rise of today’s no-frill airlines, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup in case you show up to your seat and are shocked to find no in-flight entertainment.

Bonus tip: Try a smaller airport

When flying out of Toronto, Pearson seems like the obvious (and perhaps only) choice. But luckily the GTA and nearby area is teaming with options.  When booking a flight out of a smaller international or regional airport the check-in process and even the cost may be significantly better. Check out Billy Bishop in Downtown Toronto, Hamilton International, or even Buffalo Niagara (ideal for certain direct flights within the US).

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