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My wife and I are currently looking to travel from Canada to the United States in December. Looking at the itineraries currently on offer, one of the options is a Canadian domestic flight to Montreal, and then a flight to the United States that leaves one hour (and six minutes) later.

I have very little experience with pre-clearance in YUL and how it interacts with connecting flights. For almost all the Canada–U.S. flights I've taken, I have cleared U.S. Customs either at my point of origin, or connecting via YYZ. In my experience, U.S. Customs pre-clearance at YYZ has always taken a ridiculously long time, and I wouldn't feel comfortable allowing only one hour to connect to the US if I was going through YYZ. But would it be safe to book an itinerary with a one-hour connection in YUL? Or will I be sprinting through the terminal to make it to my connecting flight?

Other possibly pertinent pieces of information:

  • Both travelers will be U.S. citizens, and will probably not have anything to declare.
  • The connection would be in the mid-afternoon on the Monday after Christmas Day.

EDIT: If it makes a difference, the itinerary is available on Air Canada's website; and I'm aware that if an airline sells me the ticket directly, then they're saying it can be done and so I have some degree of assurance that I'll get to my destination eventually. I'd just rather avoid the large hassle of a missed connection if it seems predictable.

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    Why don't you just use the kiosks? All US and Canadian citizens can use them now, you don't have to be enrolled in any program. – Michael Hampton Aug 24 '15 at 18:54
  • @MichaelHampton: I don't have much experience with the kiosks; the one time I used them was in YYZ a couple of years ago, and it still took me a while after that to get through the line to present my documents to the officer. Are those corresponding lines usually shorter at YUL? – Michael Seifert Aug 24 '15 at 19:28
  • I dunno; it's in driving distance to me so I never have any reason to fly in or out of there. – Michael Hampton Aug 24 '15 at 19:30
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    My experience with US pre-clearance in YUL was always pretty fast (20min at most), they have a lot of booths but I've never seen them all staffed. Also don't forget that delays are more frequent in winter because of snowstorms ! – blackbird Aug 24 '15 at 22:05
  • In the end, I decided not to risk it and bought a connection via YYZ instead. Too bad, since I always enjoying flying through a new airport, and I was hoping to avoid YYZ if at all possible. I still appreciate all the comments and answers, though! – Michael Seifert Sep 3 '15 at 16:30
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+50

Air Canada publishes their estimated minimum connection times on their website and it seems that you'll have enough time !

The table for Canada to US transit states

Connecting through: | Minimum Connection Time
Calgary             | 50 min
Edmonton            | 50 min 
Halifax             | 45 min 
Montreal            | 55 min 
Ottawa              | 50 min
Quebec City         | 30 min* 
Regina              | 20 min 
Saint John, NB      | 30 min 
Toronto             | 1 h 10 min 
Vancouver           | 1 h 10 min 
Winnipeg            | 1 h 15 min

Example: If you're travelling from Victoria to San Francisco with a connecting 
flight in Vancouver, you'll need to provide for a minimum connection time of 
1 hour 10 min between your arrival in Vancouver and your departure
for San Francisco. *15 minutes for connections between 2 Air Canada Express 
flights operated by Jazz

Once again, my personal experience with US pre-clearance in YUL was always fast, they have a lot of booths but I've never seen them all staffed.
The after Christmas period is usually a little calmer, so assuming there are no major snowstorms, you should be fine with the time you have.

I would confirm with Air Canada whether your bags will be checked through to the US, unloading at YUL can be slow and it might affect your ability to make it on time if you have to recheck. There's a small X-Ray right before the US customs for carry ons, but I don't remember any additional security beyond that.

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Unfortunately the answer is "you will probably make it" but you won't know before you get there. The minimum connection time for Canada to US for Montreal is 55 minutes. The airline determines this by monitoring the actual number of missed connections and dialing the time in so that this number is at some target. If they make it longer they will lose some passengers because of longer connection times and more attractive routes elsewhere, if they make it shorter they have to deal with more angry passengers and occasionally pay for hotel and food voucher. It's complicated trade off but clearly the target is not "zero".

55 minutes seems optimistic so there is a non-trivial chance that you will miss it. On my last AC flight I was going from the US to Europe via Ottawa. The min connection time for this is 60 minutes and there was absolutely no way, I would have made that. Even with the time that I had (90, I think) it was dicey and I had to beg my way through the immigration line. Fortunately the other people in line very nice enough to let me cut in.

  • But he's asking about US pre-clearance in Canada going to the US – blackbird Sep 3 '15 at 14:40
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    Understood. And the answer is "maybe". My example was to illustrate that the minimum time is a useful guideline but not a guarantee. There are no guarantees, regardless of the type of connection – Hilmar Sep 3 '15 at 15:12

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