Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hanging out at Vancouver International Airport

You'd think that with all the flying I've done with my kids, they might be totally bored and blasé when it comes to airports. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. On a recent Spring Break day, my kids' choice for an outing was to head to our home-town airport, Vancouver International (YVR) and watch the planes.

View from the Canada Line, heading to YVR.
We headed to Richmond, and then hopped on the SkyTrain from there so we wouldn't have to pay for airport parking. To my transit-loving kids, riding the SkyTrain is a good time all in itself, so adding it to the airport-trip made it extra special.

Vancouver Airport has a great public observation area. It's located in the domestic terminal, just above the food court. Just ride the escalator or elevator up and there's the view!

My son could spend all day in this place just watching the planes taking off and landing, the trucks and cars driving around servicing the airplanes, and luggage being loaded and off-loaded. He just absolutely loves it, and judging from the number of kids we saw there, he's not alone!

There are binoculars to use, there's an interactive scale-model of the airport and surrounding area where you can see all its various buildings, runways and terminals. It also shows the spots where they've made archaeological finds along the water-front.

Along the windows there are several information boards set up where you can learn about the airport's history, air travel in general, how YVR operates, and the kinds of aircraft you can see at YVR.

If you have a child (or two) who are interested in airplanes, this is a really great place to spend some time no matter what the weather is like. Bring a snack, or get something to eat or drink from one of the restaurants or cafes downstairs, then grab a seat (there are lots of tables and benches here), and just hang out.

  • One great thing about YVR is that there's free WiFi, so if want to, you can browse the net on your device of choice while your kids are enjoying the view.
  • The observation area is outside security, so there's no problem accessing it if you're not going on a flight, and it's easy to find from the SkyTrain station. YVR has a detailed map of the airport at their site.
  •  If you're looking for some gifts or souvenirs, there are some nice-looking stores in the terminal as well. My kids always go gaga for the Vancouver Aquarium's store here, and I usually have to drag them away from it when we're leaving!

Totem pole in the domestic terminal.
I might be biased since this is my home-town airport, but Vancouver International Airport is one of the nicest airports I've seen in my travels. One thing that really sets it apart is all the native Canadian art you can find throughout. Wood carvings, paintings, totem poles, sculptures... it's an impressive collection.

Wooden sculpture near the SkyTrain station.
Tip: Purchase a transit day pass or fare-saver tickets if you're taking the SkyTrain to YVR. Buying a ticket from the vending machines at the YVR SkyTrain station will cost you an extra $5 when you leave the airport. This so-called AddFare is not charged on trips to the airport. You can read more about this at Translink's homepage. It's a bit of an annoyance that they are charging this extra fee, but if you plan ahead, you can easily avoid it.

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