ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Say hello again to poutine, tidy gardens and the CN Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere.
On Saturday, nonstop air service to Canada returned to St. Louis Lambert International Airport after a hiatus of more than two years. Flights between St. Louis and Toronto, Canada’s largest city, were halted in March 2020 because of concerns about COVID.
On April 1, Canada lifted its requirement that every passenger had to take a test for the virus before traveling into the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Travelers to the country still have to show proof of vaccination, and travelers back to the United States must show a negative test or proof of recovery from the disease.
This easing of restrictions has helped to open the gates — the airport gates — back into Canada, said Jennifer Merwarth, the Chicago-based manager of regional sales for Air Canada.
The flights returning to St. Louis mark the third such resumption of service to an American city so far in May. More than 25 similar relaunches are planned by the end of June, she said.
Air Canada will then serve 48 cities in the United States. The airline flies to more airports in this country than any other foreign airline, she said.
To mark the occasion, travelers on the first plane out were given slices of cake and Air Canada luggage tags. But until they saw the signs and balloons, some passengers weren’t aware of the flight’s significance.
“We just saw the sign. My husband said, ‘What’s going on?’” said Della Mae Kennedy, who was returning to her native Canada.
Kennedy and her husband live on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, east of Australia. The couple, who are missionaries in the Pentecostal Church, had attended a conference in St. Louis before heading to their hometown in Fredericton, New Brunswick, not far from the border with Maine.
Other passengers were connecting to flights overseas from Toronto. Brian Kinsey, assistant director of marketing and business development at Lambert, said reopening the flights to the international airport in Toronto will make it easier to fly to many cities around the world.
For instance, J.G. Porwoll, of Hazelwood, made the Air Canada flight the first leg of a trip to Krakow, Poland, where he will be working with refugees from Ukraine. His wife, Jenny, was taking a different airline because the price of tickets had changed by the time she made her reservations.
Zach Jokich was on his way to Copenhagen, Denmark, to join members of his family, who live in Europe and America, for a two-week tour of Europe. He was looking forward to seeing old Viking ships that have been unearthed, he said.
At the moment, one flight a day is going to and from Toronto, but a second daily flight is scheduled to begin June 2, with a third scheduled by Oct. 1.
The resumption of service was hailed by Sonette Magnus, Canada’s honorary consul for the St. Louis area. The Toronto native, who works to further trade between the St. Louis area and Canada, said the flights will make it easier for business executives to travel between the two locations.
Canada is the largest trading partner with Missouri, she said, with $5.5 billion in imports and exports as of 2020.
And she offered a bit of advice for travelers to Toronto Pearson International Airport: Just beyond the baggage claim area in Terminal 3 is a food truck, parked inside, called Smoke’s Poutinerie.
They offer more than 25 types of the popular Canadian snack called poutine — french fries and cheese curds covered in gravy — and she highly recommends the ones sold there. She said she stops for a batch every time she flies back to Toronto.
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