Is A Nexus Card Useful For Canadians Travelling By Air In The United States?
September 5, 2012 9:26 PM   Subscribe

This November, my wife and I will be flying from Winnipeg, MB to Phoenix AZ, with a brief stopover in Minneapolis MN. A week later, we'll be returning the same way, Phoenix -> Minneapolis -> Winnipeg. We both qualify for Nexus cards and I'm wondering if they would be of any use for the Minneapolis/Phoenix leg of the trip.

I've never flown in the USA before, and I'm looking to minimize the security theater and any hassles or stress. If Nexus' main selling point is just for crossing international borders, are there any other options to make flying in the States easier?

Side question: What's the American airport security position on steel-toe boots? Will they just make me take my boots off to walk through the metal detector, or is my preferred footwear verbooten?
posted by Alvy Ampersand to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've crossed through at the Minneapolis airport dozens of times and it was universally the friendliest port of access I've ever been though (and I've been through others lots too). I don't think Nexus is worth it for a single trip. I can't address your boots question though. The single best way to minimize stress is to give yourself extra time so you aren't rushed.
posted by marylynn at 10:02 PM on September 5, 2012

I don't think there is a position on steel toe boots, but boots will be a hassle to take off at security (everyone has to take their shoes off at security).
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:30 AM on September 6, 2012

Best answer: If you're just transferring in a US airport, there usually isn't extra security; only when you get on the first flight is there all the scanning and X-ray crap.

Nexus cards take a long time to process. I applied for one in February, had the interview just this Monday, and will be getting the card in two weeks.
posted by scruss at 5:01 AM on September 6, 2012

Best answer: I've flown dozens of times from Winnipeg -> Minneapolis -> [insert US city here] and back, albeit never to Phoenix, and without using Nexus. I'm fairly certain that NEXUS will not allow you to skip the "security theatre"; it's only used when clearing Customs & Immigration in both directions, which is a different thing. Based on my experiences, here's what to expect.

You will clear U.S. Customs & Immigration in Winnipeg. I've only been through the new airport once, but if I remember correctly, you'll check in for your flight with Delta, go to the U.S. Departures area, drop off your checked bags, and then go through the security checkpoint. The security checkpoint is run by CATSA (the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority), not the American TSA. When you're returning from Phoenix, they'll make you take off your shoes/boots and run them through the detector regardless of whether they have a steel toe; you can always do that in Winnipeg too, even if it's not required of everyone. I doubt that steel-toed boots are disallowed entirely, though as noted above, they can be a hassle to take off and put back on.

Once you've cleared the security checkpoint in Winnipeg, you'll then go through U.S. Customs and Immigration. You'll chat with the U.S. government agents, who will ask you where you're going, how long, are you taking any goods that will be left in the U.S., etc. They'll also bring up a picture of your checked suitcases on a monitor so that you can verify that they're yours. This is the part that having a NEXUS card would expedite; I don't believe that NEXUS allows you to skip the metal detectors.

When you arrive in Minneapolis, you won't have to do anything; you already "pre-cleared" Customs, so your flight arrives there just like it was arriving from somewhere else in the U.S. You can walk off your flight, walk down the concourse, and get on your other flight. As note above, you won't have to pass through a metal detector/millimeter-wave scanner unless you leave the airport. (Don't do that unless you have hours and hours to spare.)

Returning, you'll pass through the security checkpoint in the Phoenix airport. They'll make you take off your boots, put your laptop in a separate container, and go through the millimeter-wave scanner. NEXUS will not help you here. You then fly to Minneapolis, change planes (again, you won't have to deal with security here), and fly back to Winnipeg. When you arrive at the Winnipeg airport, you'll talk to the Canadian Border Services agents (how long were you in the U.S., are you bringing anything back, etc.) Then you'll reclaim your bags and, assuming you didn't bring back anything you need to pay duty on and you aren't randomly selected for an inspection, walk back out into the airport. (Note: I have never been randomly selected for an inspection at this point. Out of my immediate family, my father had it happen once.) A NEXUS card would expedite this last step in Winnipeg as well.

Honestly? I wouldn't bother with a NEXUS card, unless you have $100 burning a hole in your pocket. If you really want to reduce your stress for $100, consider buying a one-day pass to Delta SkyClub instead — especially if you have a long layover in MSP on one of your legs.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:54 AM on September 6, 2012

Best answer: For a single trip, I wouldn't bother with a NEXUS. Their moderately expensive and as Johnny Assay says they only help with Customs and Immigration. You still have to go through security, removing shoes and belts, emptying out your bags and pockets and dealing with the pornoscanners.

I travel to the US a half-dozen times a year and have been "spot check" searched enough by immigration though to consider it a good deal, but for a single time I don't know if I'd bother.

NEXUS can take several months to get your interview as well. In my case, it was about 4, though they mailed me about 2 months in that someone else had cancelled their appointment. So, if you don't have them already, it may not be possible now to get them prior to your trip. I don't know what wait times are like at YWG though.

Steel-toed boots are fine. I travel with safety shoes most of the time for work. Like all other footwear, you will have to remove them before going through airport security. In fact, I'd strongly recommend easy-to-remove footwear, slip-ons or flip-flops, for air travel to the US. But steel toes in your carry-on or in a checked bag are not a problem.
posted by bonehead at 6:52 AM on September 6, 2012

Oh and wear socks too, unless you want to share foot germs with everyone else who has been through security since the last floor cleaning.
posted by bonehead at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2012

Oh, just for completeness's sake: there do exist a couple of U.S. programs (CLEAR and PreCheck), run privately and by the TSA respectively, that allow for expedited passage into secured areas of the airport. However, you have to be a U.S. citizen for either one, you still have to go through a metal detector (not a millimeter-wave scanner, though), and neither one is currently set up at Phoenix (which is where you'd need it.)

As far as I can tell, there doesn't exist an equivalent "registered traveller" program in Canada.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:19 AM on September 6, 2012

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