More and more Torontonians are using the island airport as an alternative to Pearson. But is it actually more convenient to fly out of Hamilton?
Do you hate Pearson International Airport? You’re not alone. Travelling can be stressful, especially at Canada’s busiest airport, where more than 87,000 travellers pass through each day. Many Torontonians looking to avoid the congestion at Pearson (YYZ) are starting to make travel arrangements from alternate airports like Billy Bishop (YTZ), located on Toronto Island—but have you ever considered Hamilton’s John C. Munro Airport (YHM), just an hour-long drive from the city? While Billy Bishop offers easy access from downtown, making it perfect for business travellers who need to get places in a hurry, John C. Munro affords those with a little extra time both easy highway access and simple navigation.
So which one should you choose the next time you fly? Using Toronto’s Union Station as our starting point, we compared how the airports stack up.
Who flies out of there?
YYZ: If you need to get anywhere in the world, Pearson has you covered. With over 65 airlines and service to more than 180 destinations around the world, Pearson flies to all six inhabited continents. More than 32 million people pass through Toronto Pearson every year—that’s a lot of travellers, considering Canada’s population is roughly 34.8 million.
YTZ: From Billy Bishop, travellers can fly to 18 cities across Eastern Canada and the United States on Porter Airlines. (Air Canada also flies out of YTZ, but only to Montreal.) If you want to go west of Chicago or south of Myrtle Beach, you’ll have to catch a connecting flight elsewhere. Business travellers make up the majority of the 1.9 million passengers who used the airport in 2012.
YHM: John C. Munro Airport, also known as Hamilton International Airport, is technically located in Mount Hope, on the southwestern outskirts of the city. Only a handful of airlines fly out of here. Transat, Sunwing, HolaSun, and NoliTours offer flights to southern, warm-weather destinations in the winter months. West Jet provides service to 20 Canadian and U.S. cities on a seasonal schedule, with daily trips to Calgary all year long. Bearskin Airlines also offers regular flights to Kapuskasing, Ont., if you need to venture north. More than 351,000 passengers travelled through the airport in 2012.
Getting there—by public transit
YYZ: The biggest issue with Pearson airport is the lack of affordable public transit. There are no subway or train routes (yet), making the airport seem incredibly dated and a pain-in-the-ass for downtown-based traveller. There is an Airport Express bus that serves downtown hotels every 30 minutes, but it isn’t cheap: One-way service for an adult is $27.95. To get to Pearson via TTC, from Union Station take the Yonge-University-Spadina line to St. George Station and then get on a westbound train to Kipling; from there, take the 192 Airport Rocket bus to Pearson. Total cost is $3, but approximate travel time is just over an hour.
YTZ: There’s a free shuttle bus from Union Station and approximate travel time is 15 minutes, depending on (perpetually construction-snarled) traffic.
YHM: Take the Hamilton/Toronto Express GO Bus from Union Station to Hamilton GO Centre, or hop on the Lakeshore West GO Train. From the Hamilton GO Centre, get on the 20 A-Line Express bus to the airport. Total cost is $13. Approximate travel time is two hours. Side note: The Lakeshore West train takes an extra 30 minutes to reach Hamilton, but the GO Transit Express Bus could get stuck in traffic on the QEW.
Getting there—by car
YYZ: Travel time from Union Station is approximately 25 minutes in light traffic. The downside is that driving to Pearson can be hectic—don’t miss your exit, or you’ll end up driving in circles. Parking for a week in the value lot will cost you $70; it’s $90 for weekly parking in the garage.
YTZ: Driving to Billy Bishop seems silly but, if you must, travel time from Union Station is approximately 30 minutes, including ferry travel time. The ferry is free for walk-on passengers; $11 for vehicles. A ferry leaves approximately every 15 minutes. The first ferry to the airport leaves at 5:15 a.m. and the last ferry from the airport to the mainland departs at 12:07 a.m. Weekly parking on the island is $113 (plus the $11 round-trip ferry rate). You can park onshore, but it won’t be cheap: It’s $45 per day in the Eireann Quay Lot (on the Canada Malting site) and $28 per day in the nearby Stadium Lot. And there are no weekly parking rates on the mainland.
YHM: Hamilton airport travel time from downtown Toronto is approximately one hour in light traffic. Parking is $79 per week, but the lot is comparable to a Walmart parking lot, so you won’t have to park 10 miles away or feel like you’re navigating a maze to find your car.
YYZ: Pearson can be intimidating for first-time travellers. It’s big, bright, vibrant, and cavernous. Getting to and from the airport is probably the most confusing part of the Pearson experience; fortunately, once you’re inside, the airport is well-signed and easy to navigate. There are two terminals, Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. (Terminal 2 was torn down in 2007 and hasn’t been replaced.) The check-in areas are very hectic, and you’re almost always guaranteed to wait in line at some point. But the airport itself feels warm and inviting; it’s very clean and boasts large stunning glass hallways and arched ceilings. Eight commissioned art pieces are displayed throughout the airport to represent Toronto’s role as a gateway to North American global air transportation and communicate the essence of flight. Look for the giant paper airplanes—a.k.a. “Flight Song” by artist Robert Charles Coyle—on level 2 of terminal 1. The Malton Airport Gallery also displays images of the airport’s early days.
YTZ: Even when you arrive on a packed ferry, the vibe at Billy Bishop is extremely chill. Once you’ve checked in and passed through security (bonus: U.S.-bound travellers don’t have to go through customs until they arrive at their destination), travellers descend into a bright, spacious, tarmac-level lounge that resembles a ’90s-era suburban living room. Traveller can sink into comfy sofa chairs, take advantage of the free WiFi, and enjoy complimentary snacks, all mere footsteps away from the plane they’re about to board.
YHM: The vibe of the Hamilton airport is stress-free—unless, of course, your flight is delayed, because there isn’t much to do here. This airport is very small: There are no fancy escalators, big windows, or flashy restaurants. It feels like a cold, empty, dingy shopping mall. The waiting area is unimpressive—it’s literally one giant room with padded rows of chairs. When flying into Hamilton, arriving passengers will walk across the tarmac to reach the baggage claim area, with just a rope walkway separating it from the concourse. There’s no fancy sliding door or staircase, so family and friends waiting for loved ones can watch them collect their luggage. The airport is also just one floor, making it easy to navigate for people with disabilities. Check out the exhibits displaying work by local artists or, better yet, explore the in-house Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. It features a collection of aircrafts used by the Canadian military as far back as the 1930s up to present day. Those with a boarding pass get free admission to the museum, and can interact with exhibits including flight-combat simulators.
YYZ: Pearson has been making great strides recently to enhance its array of eateries. Several new restaurant concepts, designed by top Toronto chefs, have started to roll out inside the airport this year. Beer-lovers should check out the new Mill Street Brewery Pub in Terminal 1, between gates 120 and 122.
Nobel Burger Bar opened in early October. Created by chef Mark McEwan, the restaurant lets guests create their own gourmet burgers. It also boasts an open-kitchen concept, so diners get to feel the energetic vibe from behind the scenes.
Two cocktail bars—both named Apropos—in Terminals 1 and 3 let travellers order using tableside iPad menus. Diners can entertain themselves with the tablets while waiting for their order.
That said, Pearson still has its fair share of nasty airport food. Stay away from the kiosks serving up old sandwiches and pastries; you’re better off ordering a footlong from Subway.
YTZ: There’s a lounge with free snacks and drinks such as chips, cookies, fruit, coffee, tea, and pop. Once checked in, sandwiches, salads, and alcohol are available for purchase. Unfortunately, there are no proper restaurants at Billy Bishop, so a prolonged flight delay could be problematic. But hey, if you get stuck here, at least there’s beer.
YHM: Food is limited. The only restaurant is Tim Horton’s, and there’s two of them. The only other place for eats and drinks is the new Green Smoothie Bar which serves organic and vegan smoothies, teas, wraps, and snacks such as kale chips. There’s a small duty free/full duty store in the waiting area. Sorry, beer lovers: no bar at this airport. You’ll have to wait until the flight.
How much does it cost to fly to… Halifax?
Prices based on a return ticket for the week of Oct. 19-26, 2013 as seen on kayak.com on Oct. 11.
YYZ: $631 on Air Canada.
YTZ: $535 on Porter.
YHM: $609 on West Jet.
How much does it cost to fly to… Orlando?
Prices based on a return ticket for the week of Nov. 23-30, 2013 as seen on kayak.com on Oct. 11.
YYZ: $438 on Air Canada; $411 on WestJet.
YTZ: Sorry, the farthest south you can fly from this airport is Myrtle Beach.
YHM: $369 on WestJet.
YYZ: Travelling from downtown to Pearson will be much easier when the Union-Pearson rail link is completed in 2015. Travel time is expected to be 25 minutes from Union, including stops at the Bloor and Weston GO Stations.
YTZ: Recent controversy over planned expansion of Billy Bishop has the city divided. Porter wants to fly the new—and currently forbidden—CS100 Bombardier jets from Billy Bishop; CEO Robert Deluce has submitted two proposals to the City that, if approved, would permit the new aircrafts but require extension of the airport’s main runway by one third of a kilometre. Grassroots organizations opposing expansion have been fighting the proposal, citing its potentially detrimental effects on Toronto’s waterfront. (Big names like Margaret Atwood and former Toronto city planner Paul Bedford are backers of the opposition group, NoJetsTo.) City officials are currently debating the issue and the proposal will require approval from the City of Toronto, Transport Canada and the Toronto Port Authority before going forward. The aircrafts will also need to meet noise restrictions.
Billy Bishop is also building a pedestrian tunnel. Construction on the project began in 2012 and, upon completion next summer, travellers on the mainland will be able to take an elevator down 100-feet to moving sidewalks underneath Lake Ontario. Four walkways (two in each direction) will carry travellers back and forth along the 800-foot-tunnel, leading to a bank of escalators at Billy Bishop’s check-in area. Walking the tunnel will take approximately six minutes.
YHM: The airport currently has no plans for expansion, however, it did see an increase in traffic of 5.7 per cent over the last year.
Why do these guys have airports named after them?
Lester B. Pearson: Born in Toronto, Lester Bowles Pearson was Canada’s 14th Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis, a military confrontation between Egypt on one side, and Britain, France and Israel on the other.
Billy Bishop: Born in Owen Sound, William Avery “Billy” Bishop was was the highest-scoring Canadian pilot in World War I, with 72 victories total; Bishop was awarded the Military Cross, Distinguished Service Order, and the Victoria Cross for his efforts. He survived the war and served as an Air Marshal for Canadian recruitment during the Second World War.
John C. Munro: Born in Hamilton, John Carr Munro was a prominent politician and community leader in the city of Hamilton from the ’60s to the ’80s. He was a Member of Parliament for Hamilton who helped implement the country’s first national medicare program and McMaster’s School of Medicine.
Have you opted to fly out of Hamilton instead of Toronto? Share you experiences in the comments section below.