15 February 2009


How to make a pleasant airport

Salon's Patrick Smith, pilot and aviation writer, has a great list of 15 things all airports should have, created in consultation with his readers:

  1. A fast, efficient, low-cost public transportation link to downtown
  2. Complimentary wireless Internet
  3. Power ports
  4. Convenience stores ("What's with all the luggage stores? Who the hell buys luggage after they get to the airport?")
  5. Showers and a short-stay hotel
  6. Play area for children
  7. ATMs
  8. An information kiosk
  9. A place to send mail and buy postage
  10. A bookstore
  11. Ample gate-side seating: at least as many chairs as there are seats on the plane!
  12. A quiet area
  13. Art and greenery
  14. Double-wide escalators
  15. Windows with a view of the planes

Vancouver's airport is pretty good (the transit is coming this year, there's a good play area, and you can see the planes in several places), but in general we do a crappy job of these in North America.

If you're killing time at YVR, I strongly recommend a (slightly pricey) meal or drink in the lounge of the attached Fairmont Hotel. It's quiet, comfortable, the food is good, and you can both watch the aircraft and enjoy a nice view of our mountains. We try to go there anytime we're flying, or even dropping off or picking up family and friends.

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Another suggestion for those travelling through the Vancouver airport is to check out the "Plaza Premium Lounge" once you get through security. They have one in both the domestic and international terminals now. It's $25 for three hours but includes free food, booze, and access to computers (or free wifi for those who have laptops).

I was stuck in the YVR domestic terminal for about 8 hours on Christmas day and while the rest of the airport was an absolute zoo, the lounge was an oasis of comfort and amenities! Considering I got to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as having my fill of coffee and red wine, it was $50 of my money well spent!
Yes, we're getting better; but I remember flying in and out of Gatwick to backpack Europe in 1991 and seeing many of those things back then. We certainly needed to catch up.

Along the lines of the luggage stores; on our last trip to Playa del Carmen we flew in and out of the new terminal in Cancun. The departure level after you passed security had a large Sunglass Hut and numerous places to buy suncreen, all at highly inflated prices that you'd only pay in an emergency.

Thanks for the tip about the lounge; that's the sort of trick I normally do but hadn't thought of yet for YVR.
Not to mention that we're only getting rapid transit to the airport now, a quarter century (!) after our first rapid transit line went into operation. You'd figure the airport would be the first place any rational person would run a rapid transit line.

On the plus side, the food options have improved immensely since the pokey little YVR of the '70s.
One thing I enjoyed at the YVR departure lounge for US-bound flights is the massage parlor. I was experiencing muscle spasms on my shoulder at the time. The massages were fairly inexpensive, and helped with the flight back to SFO.
I was in Vancouver this past summer, and when we departed, my wife flew to Japan and I to America... both international flights, but there was some confusion as to what terminal everyone should go to. The shuttle van dropped me off in the right spot, then took her to what she found out an hour later was the wrong sptt. Doh! So I'll add to the list "clear layout; clear instructions".

BTW, a note to the previous commenter: Fazal, you haven't posted on your blog in ages. I've been a fan for a long time, but you don't write much anymore )-:
Good point, Jeffrey. Having grown up here, of course I know which parts of the airport are for what -- I even remember most of the bits being built.

By the way, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but on my Facebook profile's Info page, I have a quote from you:


"If your name for something is 'thingamajiggy,' your chances of being able to fix it yourself are probably pretty slim."

I jotted that down (correctly, I hope) from an early edition of your "Mastering Regular Expressions" book sometime in the 1990s, long before I ever considered I might be in contact with you personally. Thanks for it.
For the guys...

Hands down the BEST thing to do in YVR is get our haircut by Franco the barber. His old-school techniques are un-paralleled.

Each cut includes multiple hot towels over the face, head, neck and shoulder massage, and face moisturizer.

Simply the best.
In point #15 you probably mean "window with a view of the planes".
Right you are. I'll fix that.