Why Vancouver Is North America’s Best Airport

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For ten straight years, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has taken the title of North America’s best airport, according to SkyTrax. By no means as large as Toronto Pearson or Chicago O’Hare, YVR still manages to sit above the 400 airports on the continent. So why is this airport consistently beating out the competition? With Vancouver being my hometown and home airport, I thought I would investigate further.

Vancouver International Airport
While ranked 1st in North America, YVR ranked 17th globally at the 2019 SkyTrax awards. Photo: Vancouver International Airport

“The Best Airport in North America award recognizes the combined quality of an airport’s product facilities and staff service provided to customers. As airports seek to develop and maximize customer loyalty and repeat business, providing guests with the best facilities and staff service requires motivation, enthusiasm and team work, and this is evidently being well provided here…” – Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax

Criteria for ranking

According to SkyTrax, the Airport Awards are based on a survey completed by customers. For the most recent rankings, data was compiled from the answers of 13.5 million questionnaires. The survey topics are quite extensive as there is a long list of roughly 40 categories to assess the airport. They include the following:

  • Getting to and from the airport/ease of Access
  • Availability of luggage trolleys (airside & landside)
  • Terminal comfort and cleanliness
  • Immigration and security: staff attitude and queuing times
  • Navigation and signage
  • Overall friendliness of airport staff
  • Wi-Fi service and other amenities
  • Baggage Delivery times
YVR is a medium-sized international airport and Canada’s primary gateway to Asia. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

From a travelers point of view

Having traveled through nearly one hundred airports in the last three years, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a vast range of differing airport standards. Between the airports of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and Singapore Changi, there is a great deal of variety. Putting my hometown bias aside, I feel like I can rank Vancouver as being high on my own list. I can certainly agree that it is one of the best in North America.

From a traveler’s point of view, the airport’s decor is calming and comfortable. The muted teal, combined with the abundance of natural light, somehow makes the terminal refreshing and comfortable at the same time. I think the carpeted floors are a big part of this as they help to soften and kill the noise of busy travelers and their rolling suitcases.

YVR’s high ceilings and large windows make the space feel bright and open. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

I’ve personally never had issues connecting to the free Wi-Fi, nor have I ever been unable to find a spot to sit comfortably. I’ve only ever been to the Plaza Premium lounges but have always found them to be fairly decent. I do hope to one day try the airport’s relatively new SkyTeam lounge.

The staff I’ve encountered at YVR have been overall pleasant. I think culture definitely has a role to play with this – especially when compared to how most people view America’s TSA. However, I wouldn’t necessarily put Vancouver’s staff friendliness above my experiences at airports like London Gatwick or Amsterdam Schiphol.

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A unique operating model?

Perhaps another factor behind YVR’s success is its unique operating model. According to its website, the airport is registered as a not-for-profit, community-based organization. It is not government-run or beholden to shareholders. “Rather, we are committed to our communities, constantly improving the airport for everyone while supporting our region,” the airport states.

This is actually quite noticeable with the variety of community activities the airport is involved in. I’m sure these programs can only contribute to the happiness and satisfaction levels of the airport’s staff.

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Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport is the second busiest airport in Canada behind Toronto Pearson International Airport. Photo: Vancouver International Airport.

Conclusion

Just so I don’t sound like too much of a brainwashed cheerleader, I think there is a reason why Vancouver International Airport is also ranked 17th globally. There is certainly more that the airport can do to enhance the travel experience.

What I think of first is how Seoul Incheon has free shower facilities and nap rooms. Those two things alone would go a long way in improving the passenger experience. I also wouldn’t mind more lounge diversity – although I don’t think the airport’s size warrants any more.

Overall, I think YVR is a great airport- and while it could be improved, it still stands as a model for other North American airports to mimic.

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Have you flown through YVR? What do you think about the airport? Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment by leaving a comment!

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