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I have really good status and miles with Delta and want to use them to fly from Montreal (where they fly) to Vancouver (where they also fly).

However, Delta refuses to book such a flight - even when I speak to an agent. They are willing to book me on two separate itineraries where I leave Montreal and go somewhere in the U.S. and then on a separate itinerary proceed from the U.S. location to Vancouver. But they won't book it as a single fare - it's two separate fares.

When I asked them why the answer is "you should fly Air Canada or Westjet". When I said "but I prefer you guys" they said "oh, well - we don't do that".

Is this an arrangement they have with Canadian airlines to prevent Canadians from using U.S. airlines to fly within Canada? Or is this some sort of gvt. regulation? Or is this just Delta being blockheads?

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    It isn't just Delta, or Canada. The U.S. fined Qantas a couple of years ago for flying passengers from JFK to LAX who were not flying onward to Australia. – choster Jan 23 at 21:39
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    @ApologizeandreinstateMonica But there are certainly city pairs in the US that have no direct flights between them, and Delta will happily fly someone from one to the other by way of a single ticket with multiple legs. So "Delta does not have flights from Montreal to Vancouver" is not sufficient to explain the behavior in question. – phoog Jan 24 at 20:23
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    @ApologizeandreinstateMonica: that's not the reason. The reason is selling domestic itineraries in foreign countries ('cabotage') is illegal for airlines, by mutual agreement, as per KateGregory's answer. – smci Jan 24 at 20:41
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    @ApologizeandreinstateMonica No, you can't. Not a revenue ticket. You can redeem miles on Delta's website for a WestJet flight from YUL to YVR, but you can't actually buy Delta flights from YUL to YVR. See my answer. – reirab Jan 24 at 23:31
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    @smci It doesn't matter if it routes through MSP (or DTW, etc.) Delta would still not be allowed to sell it. And, for the same reasons, Air Canada can't sell you a flight from SEA to BOS, even if there's a layover at YYZ. It will tell you, "It is not possible to search for flights which have both an origin and a destination in the United States." – reirab Jan 24 at 23:35
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It's not merely the agent (or airline) refusing to book it. It's illegal per Canadian law.

Honestly, this part surprises me

They are willing to book me on two separate itineraries where I leave Montreal and go somewhere in the U.S. and then on a separate itinerary proceed from the U.S. location to Vancouver.

That's still illegal if you're not actually spending some time in the U.S. A short layover doesn't count and can cause the airline to be fined. Even flying, say, American from Montreal to Chicago and United from Chicago to Vancouver is still illegal. My guess would be that the agent you spoke with simply wasn't familiar with why the system wasn't letting them book it on a single ticket for you. The U.S. has fined airlines based in Korea over that in the past when passengers were purchasing tickets on, say, Korean Air or Asiana from the mainland U.S. to Incheon Airport in Seoul and then taking a Korean low-cost carrier to Guam or Saipan, which are part of the U.S.

As Kate's answer describes, this sort of situation is known as cabotage and almost every country in the world refuses to allow it both for air transport and boat transport except with specific exceptions. The U.S. and Canada do have a few such specific exceptions for each other, but it's mostly just limited to cases where a route operated by a domestic carrier would not be economically feasible. For example, there are some small Alaskan islands that are served by Canadian-flagged ferry service, as I recall. As Matthew pointed out, perhaps the most notable exception is the European Common Aviation Area, wherein EU member countries and a few others in the region allow carriers of other ECAA member countries to operate domestic flights within their countries.


There is, however, one way to use your Delta miles to fly within Canada or to earn Delta miles for flights between Canadian cities: Delta is a partner with WestJet. While you can't buy a revenue ticket from Toronto to Vancouver through Delta, they will happily let you redeem your Delta SkyMiles for a WestJet flight from YYZ to YVR. From a quick search, they appear to run 10,000 miles + about $36 CAD in taxes and fees each way.

For example, when I just searched YYZ to YVR one-way with miles on Delta's website, this option (along with several others at the same price, all operated by WestJet) came up:

WestJet flight redeemed through Delta SkyMiles
WestJet flight redemption option with Delta SkyMiles

If you want to earn Delta miles (and/or status credit) for flights within Canada, again, WestJet is the way to do it. You can't book a revenue WestJet domestic flight through Delta, but you can add your Delta SkyMiles number to a reservation booked through WestJet in order to earn Delta miles and status credit instead of earning in WestJet's program. The tables telling you how much you'll earn for a given WestJet fare class are located on Delta's website.

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    I would have thought that you could get around the cabotage restrictions by booking on two different carriers, but apparently you can't. You learn something new every day. – Michael Seifert Jan 24 at 21:32
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    To summarize @MichaelSeifert's article, the passenger bypassed cabotage checks by booking separate flights, much like the travel agent offered to do. The airline's system detected cabotage during layover, temporarily stranding the passenger. – Brian Jan 24 at 22:28
  • @MichaelSeifert That post was one of the situations I had in mind when I wrote this answer. - haha - Definitely a hard way to learn about cabotage rules. – reirab Jan 24 at 23:11
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    @Matthew Only for member states of the ECAA. It's still prohibited for everyone else, barring a specific agreement to the contrary. A Middle Eastern or American carrier can't sell a domestic ticket within a European country, for example, unless they have some specific agreement allowing them to do so. The ECAA would be one of the "specific exceptions" to this general rule. – reirab Jan 25 at 23:16
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    @Matthew I edited to mention the ECAA. – reirab Jan 25 at 23:39
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This is "cabotage" - when an airline from Country A gets permission to fly from A to B, and from B to A, it agrees not to do domestic flights inside B. Usually the way around it is to use your Airline A miles on a country B airline in the same alliance. (Eg if you had United miles, you could use them for Air Canada flights.) But I don't think WestJet (or any other Canadian airline) is in SkyTeam. [Though as it turns out, you can still use your Delta miles on them, see reirab's answer.] So you'll either have to do the trick through a US city, or use your miles for something else.

For more on cabotage and the rights countries grant to each other's airlines, check out The Freedoms of the Air and the "five freedoms". ICAO is International Civil Aviation Organization -- the organization that all this is governed by.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Ankur Banerjee Jan 24 at 16:25
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    Would the same rules apply if one switches from plane to bus in the middle (YYZ -> SEA, than take bus to YVR or ferry to YYJ) or these rules are only for single mode of transportation? – Alexei Levenkov Jan 25 at 0:56
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    It's worth noting that the name, Cabot-age, comes from Mr. Cabot, that Italian guy in the age of exploration who kicked around North America doing some exploration. – Fattie Jan 25 at 14:19
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    Wendover Productions made a great video on "The Five Freedoms of Aviation": youtube.com/watch?v=thqbjA2DC-E – Nayuki Jan 26 at 15:29
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    Cabotage is not named after the the Italian explorers. It's borrowed from French, and is derived from caboter which means "to travel along the coast". – AndyB Jan 27 at 8:11

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