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Cruise Tips
Reader Tips:

Vancouver Airport

by Alan Walker

For any of you who will be leaving from Vancouver by air to the continental U.S. after the end of your Alaska cruise, here's what you'll need to know about Vancouver's International Airport:

Tip #1: If you're leaving from Vancouver on one of those days when there are three or more cruise ships arriving in Vancouver (usually, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday), and if you're flying out mid-morning, AND if you hate waiting in line-ups like I do, consider getting a taxi to the airport instead of waiting for that free transfer from the cruise line. You're bound to beat the bus to the airport by 20 minutes or half an hour, and you'll be that much further ahead in the check-in line-up if you do so.

The taxi fare to the Vancouver International Airport (whether you're going there from the Canada Place cruise terminal or from the Ballantyne terminal) is about $25 Canadian, including tip, but a U.S. $20 greenback will do just as well. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

You need to tell the taxi driver that you want "U.S. departures". (There are separate locations for Canadian destinations and "international departures" although they are all in walking distance of each other).

Free luggage carts are available at the terminal. There is no "curbside" check-in. The counters for check-in can be changed from time to time from airline to airline, so there is no point in asking your taxi driver to drop you at the "Delta", "American" or any other airline portion of the terminal. When you get into the terminal, you need to look for "your" airline on the TV monitors at the check-in booths.

Tip #2: If you're a member of an airline "club", you may be able to use the (usually short) line-up for business class or first-class, even if you're only flying economy. Also check with your own "club" ahead of time, to see if they have reciprocal privileges with Canadian Airlines or Air Canada (who are the only two airlines with actual "club" facilities at Vancouver airport - so far as I know). You can then use the club lounge facilities of one of these two airlines for a very relaxed wait for your departure.

Tip #3: (actually, a warning): Once you go through the "check-in" procedure, you can't get back to the rest of the airport which means, among other things, no chance for a hot meal, and slim retail opportunities. If you have lots of time before your flight, and want a full meal or better retail opportunities, you will need to take yourself and your baggage to the "Canadian Departures" part of the airport.

Tip #4: Fill in your U.S. immigration/customs card BEFORE you even leave the ship.

As you leave Vancouver, you will be passing through U.S. Customs (so that the U.S. Customs doesn't need to have Customs services in such obscure U.S. destinations as Waldron, Arkansas). In other words, all the stories you need to tell about what you purchased on the ship or in Vancouver, plus all your receipts, need to be ready in Vancouver - not when you get to your destination. Your purchases in Alaska itself do not have to be declared because Alaska is part of the U.S. Purchases made on the ship, whether the ship was in Alaskan waters or not, and whether or not such purchases were "duty free", MUST be declared. Keep in mind that you may also be asked questions about whether you're carrying fresh food or fruit of any kind, most of which is prohibited from being taken back into the U.S.

After you've checked in, you AND your bags will enter the departure lounges through a Duty Free store. You need to show your boarding card as you enter the duty free store. Whatever you buy at duty free (if anything - prices are high for most everything except liquor and cigarettes), you get to carry with you - they don't deliver to the plane. Your blue U.S. Immigration/Customs card will be stamped with your purchase.

Next you will be in the line-up for U.S. Customs/Immigration, where you'll need proof of citizenship and your blue card. There is a secondary check point after that to collect your blue card (or to take you aside if they don't believe you).

You may see a dog or dogs at this point. The Beagles are the "Agriculture Dogs", and sniff your luggage to see if you're carrying any food. The big dogs, Golden Retrievers, Black Labs, German Shepherd's, etc. are the "Drug Dogs" and they can certainly smell! One lady I know was stopped because she was carrying a bag that her son had used some six months previously and there were trace remnants of a marijuana joint in it!). Perhaps the most fascinating dog is the Australian Roo Hound which is able to sniff out brand-new clothing, shoes that have only been worn once, recently-purchased jewelry, and whether a label has been torn out from clothing.

(Did you believe me? There are no Roo Hounds but it's no joke about the other dogs).

Finally, you get to dump your bags on a conveyor belt, and you have to abandon your free baggage cart at this time. You're almost, but not quite, finished.

You then need to line-up to pay the departure tax (described as "an airport improvement fee"), which is $10 Canadian - payable in Canadian or U.S. cash, or by credit card. This is a good time to get rid of those Canadian $1 and $2 coins you may have been given as change in Vancouver.

Another official then collects your departure tax card and takes (another) look at your boarding card. And, of course, there's the security check of your carry-on luggage. I don't know about you - I'm already exhausted.

If you now look to your left, you'll see a lot of interesting stores. You can't access them. Those are for "real" international departure passengers, not you guys going to the good old U.S.(grin)

At this point your departure gate is likely straight ahead, but do look at the signs. To your right there is a corridor leading to a temporary terminal with gates for commuter flights to places like Seattle and Portland. Some of the newer, smaller carriers, are also located there like America West and Alaska Airlines. The temporary terminal has its own food and magazine stores.

If you're going straight ahead to the main terminal, there is a smoking room on your right as you turn the corner into the U.S. Departures lounge. By now, maybe you want to take up smoking (grin).

Remember my earlier warning of what's "inside" the departure lounge once you have committed? Well, here's what you can now get:
  • W.H. Smith has a store with postcards, limited T-shirts, other souvenirs, newspapers (including "U.S. Today"), chocolates, salmon, magazines, limited books.

  • Starbucks (a Seattle-based chain), has coffee, danish, other drinks, no hot foods.

  • Rain Forest has a small bar, pre-packaged sandwiches, fruit, water and coffee.

  • Big Apple Bagels (is that a Canadian sounding name or what?), doesn't have apples but has - wait for it - bagels (!), deli sandwiches, pasta-type salads, no hot foods.

I have heard a rumour that your plane will finally arrive.

I hope you enjoy Vancouver, and put up with our airport procedure - it's not as bad as it sounds, except that the line-up for U.S. Immigration/Customs can be very slow, so you should allow yourself extra time. And the good side is that when you arrive at your destination, there's no immigration/customs hassle to go through.


Alan WalkerOriginally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.

To find all of Alan's SeaLetter columns, featured and humorous articles, and cruise and port reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.

Alan loves email, and can be reached at: Alan@sealetter.com.

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