Optimal travel from Montreal to Waterloo

Posted by Patrick Lam on Saturday, December 28, 2019

The plan was to leave our stuff at our friends’ place in Toronto, go to Montreal and the Eastern Townships for the holidays, leave our car at my parents’ place, and then get back to Waterloo, clean the house and execute last-minute tasks, and then get back to Toronto, pick up our 5 checked bags and bring them all to the airport.

Let’s talk about getting from Montreal (well, Brossard) to Waterloo on December 28.

tl;dr: lift to airport, stood by successfully for 12:30 flight, shopped at MEC, took 5:40 train, taxi back home, hosted guests.


MP’s dad gave us a ride to the Montreal Trudeau airport (30 minutes, Saturday morning, no traffic). From Montreal the 747 bus is a good option.

Montreal to Toronto

Airlines have a huge amount of capacity on the Toronto-Montreal route. More than Via Rail. This is normally not an issue but it comes up during the Christmas break. Via Rail gets expensive and then sold out. I took the bus from Boston to Montreal too many times to consider taking this bus. (Somehow my aunt loves the Megabus.)

Air Canada out of YTZ (Toronto City Centre) is strange. I feel like they just keep flying out of there to keep Porter from having all of the slots at YTZ. The 17:30 flight was significantly cheaper than the others, so I booked it, despite planning to take Via Rail at 17:40 to Kitchener. Obvious potential problem. Weekend travel options between Toronto and Waterloo are unfortunately limited. We could have also rented a car for 2 days, but renting at this time of year is expensive.

Montreal-Toronto on any Air Canada fare higher than AC allows free standby, but standby only works when space is available. So it was a gamble, which I’ve always won in the past. Would I be lucky this time?

I like to improve my odds when possible. Taking a sufficiently early flight should work, especially if it’s not the first flight of the day (for those who got stuck the night before). In any case I started (somewhat obsessively) checking loads a few days before. But then I remembered that the Saturday schedule is relatively sparse to YTZ; the only relevant flights are 7:30, 8:30, 12:30, and 14:30. I was not expecting the 4 hour gap between 8:30 and 12:30 which is unique to the weekend. I guess people don’t really want to fly midmorning to City Centre, or so Air Canada thinks.

Goal flight

It would have to be 12:30.

I also looked for a weather event (“revised ticketing policy”) which would allow us to confirm on an earlier flight. But despite freezing rain and weather events on the previous two days (great day to drive to Ottawa for a day trip), it was a beautiful day for flying on the day of. Standby it is.

As I checked in for the 5:30 flight I noticed that it had far fewer open seats than I expected. Uh oh. On the other hand, Air Canada was still selling lots of tickets for the relevant flights (you can check this using the United booking engine in expert mode on any flight that United sells). The app let me list myself on standby for the 2:30 flight, which would be OK but not great. Also not great was that the 2:30 showed as full.

Now, 7:30 is too early for me unless I have to. I did watch the length of the standby list, which was surprisingly long, increasing my stress level.

More worries

But the 8:30 flight got cancelled due to crew availability, reported the Air Canada app. Uh oh! I figured, though, that most passengers would choose to fly to YYZ instead.

The list

When we got to YUL at 11:00, the check-in agent put us on standby for the 12:30 flight, saying that there were 3 seats and 12 people on the standby list.

She was also entertaining YYZ options, although none of them seemed like a better bet than the 12:30 YTZ (in particular since we’d have to get from YYZ to Union, and they didn’t have a lot of space either; sometimes even -4 seats).. Fortunately, due to status, we showed up as the first two names on the list. I think that the list gained an extra checkmark after we checked in, which was worrying: that would mean that we might be getting the last two seats. But we were #1 and #2 at T-45, so that should be fine.


Eventually when they cleared the standby list it ended up showing 9 successful seat assignments and 12 still on the list. At that point the list gets sorted alphabetically and I was briefly worried, but it ended up being fine. We got our boarding passes from the somewhat frazzled gate agent and boarded the flight. Yay!

The list later got refreshed with a length of 16 and 2 checkmarks.


We got off the plane, took the tunnel (MP misses the ferry, but I don’t miss the ferry when trying to not miss a flight!) and then needed to figure out how to get to MEC.

We decided to do Toronto Bike Share. There is some elevation gain and some traffic on Spadina but it worked reasonably well even with our day packs. I had to put the big day pack in front so that the laptop would be on my back. I figured that the shuttle to Union would take a while and we’d still be 20 minutes away from MEC. (The shuttle overtook us at Queens Quay and Spadina). Or it would be a 30 minute walk from YTZ.

After buying needed gear at MEC (two pairs of boots and a helmet) we went back to Union Station again on bikes. (If I’d have thought of that two weeks ago I would probably have caught the 8:53 train!) I met up with Andi and retrieved my rope and some socks.


The VIA Rail train to Kitchener is the most comfortable way to get between Toronto and Kitchener. It’s sometimes delayed and slower than no-traffic driving, but I always prefer not driving. In the event, it was right on time.

Last time I was at Kitchener station I walked home because it was too late to take GRT. This time we took a cab, which is only slightly more than GRT for two people and always faster. (I’d rather avoid Uber when possible; I have mixed feelings about Uber. Plus: VC funding your travel! Minus: Exploiting drivers! [And tips are not the solution!!]) GRT also would be questionable for rendezvousing with Dave.

We got home and then eventually Dave and his family showed up. A successful travel day.