5 reasons Vancouver International (YVR) is the best airport in North America

March 18, 2016 Mehrdad Parsad

YVR has won a record seven SKYTRAX awards at the annual Passenger Terminal Expo. What makes the airport so successful?


At this year’s Passenger Terminal Expo in Germany, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) won the SKYTRAX award for Best Airport in North America for a record seventh consecutive year. The SKYTRAX awards are based on customer feedback, and many travelers have their own reasons to love YVR. I’m lucky enough to work as an architect with YVR every week and I fly through the airport on a regular basis. Here’s what I think are the big reasons YVR keeps customers happy, year after year.

1.      YVR is focused on creating a strong brand and sense of place.

I instantly associate Starbucks’ logo with the taste and aroma of their coffee, the atmosphere of their cafés, and their merchandising. I don’t even need to see the words “Starbucks” or “coffee”—the twin-tailed mermaid surrounded by the green circle is enough to conjure up a positive feeling for me.

That feeling is the heart of Starbucks’ brand, and YVR has achieved a similar emotional impact for its customers. YVR’s brand focuses on creating an unmistakable sense of place. “Offering visitors a unique journey of Land, Sea and Sky, each terminal building strategically represents the culture heritage, natural beauty and iconic experiences that embody British Columbia,” YVR states. Whether because of Bill Reid’s “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe” or a stunning mountain view, when you’re in YVR, you can experience some of the best that British Columbia has to offer.

2.      YVR is business savvy.
YVR sees a generous increase in passenger numbers each year and is planning to increase its passenger volume even further. But to achieve that, the airport has to attract more flights. One way to do that is to reduce airplane ground times.

How long an airplane spends on the ground dictates the cost to that airline. If an airport can shorten that time, the airline is happy because it pays fewer fees. And the airport is happy because it can soon welcome another airplane at the same gate, which increases passenger volume. But reducing this time is no easy task for an airport.



YVR has both domestic and international terminals. These must be isolated from each other because security requirements require arriving international passengers to go through customs before being mixed with domestic passengers. So a flight traveling from Hong Kong to YVR to Toronto has to arrive at an international gate, where its passengers deplane. It then has to taxi to a domestic gate to take on new domestic passengers, therefore increasing ground time, congestion, and coordination and planning along the apron.

But YVR created a way for an international flight to land at domestic gates, deplane its passengers, and allow these passengers to head to Canada customs in complete isolation. Domestic passengers can then be loaded onto the same plane almost instantly.

This concept is helping YVR attract more airline traffic and become a central hub for transfer flights. The recently completed domestic terminal project, called A-B Connector, is the first of a number of projects that are kick-starting this infrastructure improvement.

3.      YVR had a plan—and is sticking to it.
As the saying goes, “If you know where you’re going, you’re halfway there.” YVR’s masterplan dates back to the airport’s inception in the 1960s, when the incremental changes to the terminal started.

4.      YVR is focused on the passenger experience inside the terminal…
YVR is focused on a wide range of small improvements to increase customer satisfaction, including

  • Better washrooms—touch-free, fully accessible, vibrant and modernized amenities, and with ample space to navigate even with all that carry-on
  • Constantly evolving dining and shopping opportunities
  • A layout that, despite the airport’s size, makes everything feel close
  • More free Wi-Fi, laptop and phone charging areas, and TV viewing areas
  • New play areas for kids
  • Softer seating among carefully placed plants and art boxes in gate areas
  • Wayfinding that creates an intuitive path for all the different passenger flows within the terminal

5.      …and outside the terminal, too.
The terminal operation, however perfect, would be incomplete without a fully functional ground side curb which allows for:

  •  Easily accessible passenger drop-off and pick-up areas, including taxis
  •  Easily accessible parkade right outside the terminal door, including a well-equipped rental car facility
  •  A SkyTrain station with complete access to downtown, right from the terminal

So congratulations to YVR on becoming—and staying—a world-class airport.

About the Author

Mehrdad Parsad

As an architect and airport terminal design leader, Mehrdad’s highest priority is to be the main point of contact for our clients. His passion is to help clients—such as the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA)—achieve long-term goals. Specializing in passenger experience and flow, Mehrdad cultivates terminal connectivity by innovating on infrastructure, retail planning, food and beverage offerings, and stakeholder engagement.

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