At what point is cabotage law violated?

In a couple of months I need to fly from Seattle to New York, and airfare is quite expensive for the day I need to travel.

One thought I had involved Cathay Pacific’s tag flight from Vancouver to New York, which is operated daily by a 777-300 with Cathay Pacific’s brand new business class product, featuring fully flat beds. This is hands down the most luxurious flight within North America, and at 25,000 British Airways Avios or American AAdvantage miles for business class it’s an absolute bargain.

But the thing is that I’d be originating in Seattle, and as many of you probably know there are cabotage laws which prevent flying a domestic itinerary via a second country (and it also prevents an international airline from operating domestic flights within a foreign country, though that’s not applicable here).

Anyway, my plan was to book an award ticket from Seattle to Vancouver on Alaska Airlines, which would cost only 4,500 British Airways Avios one-way.

The question is, if I’m booked on two separate itineraries would I be violating cabotage laws? At what point is it no longer a violation? If I walk in front of the airport for five minutes to “visit” Canada? If I spend a night there? If I spend 24 hours there?

I think it’s an interesting topic, and I suspect it’s useful to others as well. If anyone has any insight I’d be curious to hear. I’m no fan at all of US immigration, though I’ve found Canadian immigration to be even worse. So as comfortable as a redeye is in a flat bad, if it comes at the expense of five hours of interrogation in a room with no windows, I’m probably not up for it. šŸ˜‰

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards
  1. The law prevents the airline from selling you a single ticket traveling USA-USA via a second country. There is no law preventing you from traveling such an itinery on separate tickets.

    However, consider just doing a one-way rental SEA-YVR. It’s an easy 2 hour drive.

  2. I agree with BrewerSEA. However, I also recommend taking Amtrak to Vancouver if you don’t want to drive.

  3. Actually I agree re Amtrak. I’ve taken the route a number of times and it provides beautiful views of Puget Sound (take a lefthand seat).

  4. Cabotage law prevents a foreign airline selling you a domestic itinerary via a foreign point. A US-flagged carrier could sell you such a ticket.

  5. The Amtrak on that route takes close to 4-5 hours. Take quickshuttle. It’s 35/40 bucks for students/adults and has free WiFi. It’s almost as quick as flying by the time you add in travel time to SEA, security, etc. Also unlike greyhound the people tend to be businesses men or students.

  6. I have LAX-YVR and YVR-JFK booked, one on AS (paid to get my DL MQMs) and the other on CX. They’re separate tickets, so I’m pushing my luck, but I left plenty of time. Shouldn’t have an issue with any cabotage since it’s separate tickets. Also, I’ve flown LAX-YVR and connected to KLM before, and YVR has an “international conenctions” lane where you don’t have to go through Canadian immigration/customs, and they have boarding pass kiosks there to get a boarding pass if you don’t have it already.

    One of my favorite FT TRs does almost what you’re trying to do:

  7. Thanks for the thoughts, guys! For now am shying away from car rentals, though like the Amtrak and shuttle ideas.

    If I did go the route of flying, I wonder what immigration could/would do. When they ask “how long are you here for?” and I said “two hours, I’m connecting to New York,” I’m thinking they may have an issue with it. Not much they can really do at that point, or can they? But I just don’t envision a pissed off immigration officer to be especially happy about the situation.

  8. Come to YVR! Stated rationale being airport visit to your blog readers?

    I just flew this flight last week in business and it was just great. Best seat I have experienced in business. Better than Business Premier.

  9. @ AK — Interesting. Isn’t the US separate from the rest of the international connections, though, since you pre-clear US immigration? Or would it be possible to do such a trip entirely while staying within the international transit “zone?”

  10. @ Jonathan — Trust me, I plan on it in the next couple of months. Can’t do it with this particular trip, but definitely looking to visit Vancouver soon.

  11. Think of it this way. If they refuse you entry, what, you end up going back to the USA???

    CBA agents are quite reasonable. Be honest and explain what you are doing. Doubt they will care!

  12. Lucky, there is only one way to do it purely in the international zone at YVR. You have to take PR from LAS-YVR. That gets you into the international zone. From there, you go to JFK. You DO NOT PRE CLEAR US customs in YVR for this particular flight. It is the only one besides the YVR-LAS flight. You clear at JFK.

  13. Hear, hear to Canadian immigration being absolutely terrible!

    I’ve traveled to 90 countries around the globe, and consistently find Canada’s immigration officers to be the rudest, most arrogant, and generally obnoxious to deal with of any country anywhere. I now intentionally avoid Canada in my route planning whenever possible.

    It’s not just a one time thing, but over and over and over they have reminded me of why I avoid the neighbor to the north.

  14. Lucky, do not attempt to connect to the CX flight from the US by following the signs to International Connections. You will have to enter Canada. You cannot — and will not be allowed to — connect from the US to a US-bound flight without entering Canada. This is the “Voice of Experience” speaking.

  15. @Lucky – YVR-JFK is a tag flight from HKG, so there’s no preclearance for that flight. Shouldn’t be a problem with Global Entry.

  16. @AmericanMontrealer – how recent was this? Could have sworn I read a TR of someone who did SFO-YVR-JFK and said that Canadian immigration wasn’t necessary. But it was a while ago … I’m doing a similar route in the future …

  17. What about Quantas LAX-JFK on an A380 for most luxurious? Of course good luck getting that ticketed.

  18. @ AdamH — It’s actually a 747 without first class, and I’d say first and business class on Cathay Pacific is better than anything on a Qantas 747.

  19. Hey Lucky, I don’t think there’s a problem. Cabotage laws in the context you’re talking about are aimed at carriers, not passengers.

    The relevant legal issue here is immigration laws. If you want to travel from a U.S. city to another U.S. city via a second country, that’s ok, as long as: (a) the second country allows sterile transit; or (b) if not, then you can gain entry into the second country per its immigration entry rules. The U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t allow sterile transit, so if you were trying to fly YVR-SEA, SEA-YYZ, you would need to clear U.S. immigration (normally on arrival into the U.S., but because of US-Canadian relationship, the U.S. have set up their posts on Canadian soil in YVR).

    I think Canada might not have sterile transit either, so in your case, you’d have to clear Canadian immigration when you get to YVR. As a US citizen you shouldn’t have a problem. A customs official could always exercise discretion to bar your entry (“You’re only here for two hours? What are you, a terrorist?”) but there’s pretty much zero chance of that happening. If you were barred entry for some reason, you’d be deported… back to the U.S. (Though I’m not sure if it’s considered a legal deportation, which is something that would go on your record and potentially make future travel to Canada problematic.)

  20. Why not spend a day in Vancouver? Beautiful city and we’d enjoy the pictures.

    I’m sure you know that on separate tickets, if something goes wrong and you get delayed.. not sure what Cathay would do.

    I never knew you could book Alaska tickets using Avios..

  21. The Amtrak cascades is a gorgeous ride from Seattle to Vancouver (ask for a seat on the left hand side of the train) and as cheap as $50 in business class. Or transfer 1,000 UR to Amtrak points for a coach ticket šŸ˜‰

  22. I’ll echo several others here: if you have the time, take Amtrak. It’s a beautiful trip that’s worth doing on its own. Then, if you have time, spend the day in Vancouver. The Cathay Padific flight doesn’t leave until after 10 pm so you can spend the afternoon at Stanely Park before heading to the airport. I just took the Cathay Pacific flight last week and it was great!

  23. Too bad you did not sign up for NEXUS along with your Global Entry. That way you could have used the machines to enter Canada, and avoided the whole question.

  24. It’s not physically possible for me to care less what Lucky decides on this topic. I just liked reading the thread because I think the word “cabotage” is fun.

  25. Another option is to hop on the Amtrak Cascades service to YVR then catch the CX flight from there. Less stressful and with WiFi on the train, you can work while enjoying the scenery from the ground šŸ˜€

  26. A law involving anti-competition with other countries…that doesn’t sound very “American”…in concept I mean.

    I also agree with @howie…rent the car, its entertaining for us (not that any of us wish bad thing to happen to you), its just the strangest things happen to you!

  27. Ive done the car rental in sea and driven to yvr, it’s a beautiful and fun drive. Haven’t done the Amtrak though I may try that next time around!

  28. Why do you care? Cabotage laws are anti-competitive and hurt people (i.e. “consumer”) like you and me. IPBrian is spot-on on their un-Americaness.

    If you can get the itinerary, just fly it!

  29. PS. Te definition of cabotage is, according to Merriam-Webster, “trade or transport in coastal waters or airspace or between two points within a country.” Wikipedia expands on it by saying that “cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two points in the same country by a vessel or an aircraft registered in another country.”

    Your itinerary is definitely NOT cabotage.

    You may want to review your commercial aviation law before posting! šŸ˜‰

  30. @ JetsettingEric — I definitely will on another trip this year, but for this particular trip I have a specific date I need to travel and I can’t get out of it.

  31. Very interesting, thanks for posting this, Lucky, and for all the comments; I’d never heard of ‘cabotage’ before.

  32. One caution about driving or taking a shuttle from SEA to YVR: check the border wait times at Blaine/Peace Arch on I-5. They can be as short as a few minutes, but as long as an hour (plus) at peak times. The drive itself can be done in 2-2 1/2 hours, but the border crossing can up that time. You can check wait times online. If driving yourself, there are alternate crossings if Blaine/Peace Arch is backed up.

    I personally would go Amtrak. As many have said, it’s a beautiful ride. I believe that if you splurge for business class (a small premium) you are first through immigration at Pacific Central Station.

  33. As a Canadian I have to agree with the comments about Canadian Customs officers being among the rudest in the world. BTW you wouldn’t meet a real immigration officer unless you get sent to secondary.

  34. @canuck_in_ca – I just realized that I could sign up for NEXUS and potentially avoid the whole mess. This would be great! I could still get my fill of Tim Hortons!

    I have Global Entry, which simplifies getting back into the US, but in order to clear INTO Canada, I think I have to sign up for NEXUS in the normal way. Anybody know more on this???

  35. I’m in a similar situation in a few weeks and decided to drive. I need to drop a friend off at SEA around noon, but I’ll have almost 10 hours to make the drive from SEA to YVR.

  36. last year me (and many others) took advantage of the SEA-EWR UA mistake fare where you could route pretty much any way you wanted. I flew from EWR to IAH via LIM. I went straight to international connections in Peru and US agents didn’t care on the return.

  37. @Todd: I saw a Canadian customs officer asking a Japanese girl why she wanted to visit Canada for vacation….what kind of a stupid question is that? very condescending to her

    @Lucky: if your not sure, you can always called AS and ask them….but I bet they will even interline your bags being they are partners with CX

  38. No. I do this all the time and if it is via award and 2 separate bookings it won’t matter at all. Even if you land in YVR and transfer no one monitors the airlines.

    United even let me book YVR-ORD-YYZ in the past

    And since you will be visiting me when coming to Vancouver HAHA, you will be here on official business.

    Also booking YVR-JFK in Business is a mistake when First is available for 32,500 OW and you get 10% back via your AA Citi card.

  39. PDX-SEA-YVR and back is now served by $1-$25 nonstop between cities wifi enabled greyhounds, that beats most shuttles. It is Downtown only, no airport stops.

  40. I know nothing about cabotage law, and this was the first I ever heard of it. Just shooting from the hip though, I would guess this applies more to a person selling an itinerary (so you should never be able to buy a SEA-YVR-JFK), as others have mentioned. if you put your own together, then you technically are visiting Canada, i guess?

    and FWIW, i recently flew the YVR-JFK leg on my way home from Bali (through HKG). i had to deplane and wait in the quarantine zone for about an hour in YVR, and go through US Customs at JFK, so yea, it’s definitely not pre-cleared customs.

  41. Anyone who has NEXUS or Global Entry is eligible for CANPASS. It is just like Global Entry with the kiosks at Canadian airports. Before you use them though, you need to visit an immigration center (such as the original one you were interview in to get NEXUS) to get your irises scanned into the database in Ottawa. Piece of cake!

  42. No need for canpass, all major Canadian airports have nexus itself and global entry for exit to USA.

  43. Kuods, Lucky–I learned a new word.

    Before, I would have thought Cabotage to be the deliberate destruction of cabbage!

  44. Tell them you are visiting a friend. Seriously, come to Vancouver and I’ll show you around.

    Feel free to email me!

  45. +1 to taking Amtrak. It’s pretty quick and very scenic. All the border formalities are done at the station in Vancouver not at the border so lines aren’t really an issue.

  46. Wow, I never have had a problem with Canadian customs officers or heard so many complaints about them. So I guess Kenney is telling the officers to get mean. I have always heard complaints from the opposite side about US customs officers. I never connect through the US unless I have to. I would even pay more just to avoid it and know many that do.

  47. A while back, both KE and OZ got stung with huge fines for transporting people between the mainland US and Guam, a Pacific territory of the US. E.g. They sold tickets to pax going from LAX-ICN-GUM. They got half of their fine suspended if they were to discontinue this practice.

    Because of this, check-in agents and GAs in ICN carefully check passports of all US bound pax (either mainland or otherwise) to ensure that they are not violating cabotage laws. I have heard of several people who have been refused their onward ticket and instead told that they will be placed on the next available flight 24 hours from their arrival into Korea.

    I’m guessing carriers with tag-on flights continuing on to US destinations would be very aware of cabotage laws.

    My suggestion is much like everyone else’s: catch a shuttle/Amtrak up to Vancouver. You’re much less likely to be denied boarding, and CBP often don’t bother stamping passports. Plus you get the benefits of the amazing views!

  48. Find a routing along the lines of SEA-YVR-YCD-YVR-JFK (YCD = wildcard)

    Round trip SEA-YVR-YCD-YVR-JFK-YYZ-SEA should work.

  49. What about SEA-YVR-JFK-DCA; stopover; IAH-AUH?
    Would spend day in YVR, but without a stopover it certainly seems US-CA-US, unless I’m freed by the later AUH detail.

  50. If the CX flight has an AA flight code, then in theory a single AA ticket from SEA-YVR-JFK should not be a problem, as it is a US carrier. On the other hand, could something like YVR-JFK-YUL be sold as a (single) AA ticket, with the YVR-JFK sector on CX?

  51. Like Pat Sarn said, as long as one segment of the flight is a US operated carrier, you should not have a problem with the cabotage law. However, had you chosen both segments with foreign carriers, you would have to stay in Canada for at least 96 hours before flying to New York. If caught, you will be denied to fly.

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