Vancouver’s unique tower dominates the airport skyline – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
If you are a big AvGeek, then the chances are you have listed in on air traffic control (ATC) somehow. Be it onboard a United flight using their famous Channel 9, listening online using LiveATC, or through a scanner while plane spotting, it’s a familiar sound. But have you ever wondered what life is like from the other side of the microphone? Wouldn’t it be great to see what an airport looks like from the top of the tower, or what it is like to work inside an area control center? Recently Nav Canada gave me that exact opportunity at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and I wanted to share.
Nav Canada, a not-for-profit private company, controls the airspace above Canada similar to the FAA in the United States. Vancouver Tower stands tall above the airport at around 140m tall (460ft) and has 360-degree views of the entire area. Although the day I visited the tower did not have the best weather (the cloud deck was really low, unfortunately) the view of the airport was still impressive. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the mountains north of the city (towards Grouse) or down to Victoria in the south. But I was more there for the view inside than the clouds and mountains outside.
Ever feel like this? “The Flying Traveller” by Patrick Amiot & Brigitte Laurent. Just past domestic security of “C” Pier.
I’m really lucky to have Vancouver International Airport (YVR) as my “home base”. YVR has great plane-watching, which is a necessity for AvGeeks, of course, but also has fabulous architecture and design, and is a wonderful place to spend some time. But don’t take just my word for it.
YVR was rated as the Best Airport in North America for the 4th year in a row in the 2013 Skytrax World Airport Awards. YVR ranked 8th overall worldwide, and is the only North American airport to make the Skytrax Top 10 in 2013.
YVR has one, large interconnected terminal that’s divided into areas for Canadian-domestic, international, and U.S. flights. For those who haven’t flown from a major Canadian airport to the States, passengers get to clear U.S. customs and immigration before they get on their flight. It’s the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “Preclearance” program.
As the passengers have pre-cleared, the plane lands at its destination as a domestic flight, making passenger arrivals more efficient. At YVR, passengers who have cleared security can pass between the domestic and international areas, but the U.S. area first requires a stop to chat with the CBP officers and a separate security check. Once you’ve been cleared, you’re in “quasi-U.S. territory”. If you leave, you have to go see the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers and clear customs to get out of the terminal. Interesting…eh?
Part of what makes YVR so unique is the amazing collection of art on display.
A Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER preparing for a Test flight at Boeing’s Everett Factory. Image: Mal Muir.
If you need to travel between New York and the Canadian west coast, there are just a few choices. Your main options are Air Canada or WestJet, which both operate direct flights between New York and Vancouver. Another option is flying a US-based airline (like United or American) via one of their hub cities. But what if you have a nice chunk of points to burn and want to get the best bang for your buck? Sure, you could redeem for Air Canada business, but that would just be like flying any other US airline in the front cabin. What if you could get a truly unique experience for the same amount of points as any other redemption? Well you can, with an unexpected airline.
Cathay Pacific Airlines (CX), based in Hong Kong, operates four daily flights between New York’s JFK Airport and Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport. However, one of those flights has a layover in Vancouver. The last flight of the day (CX889) makes a stop along the way and Cathay Pacific has “Fifth Freedom” rights between New York and Vancouver.
What is a Fifth Freedom flight? It’s where an airline is allowed to sell tickets on a flight between two foreign countries as part of a service connecting their own country. Confusing, right? In layman’s terms it means that if, for instance, the airline needs to make a fuel stop mid-route or something similar, then it can sell a ticket from that stopping point to the end destination.
Cathay Pacific’s flight from New York to Vancouver is unique in that those in premium cabins get all the standard international service items, despite the fact that it’s only a five-hour flight. So even though I was flying a transcontinental flight JFK-YVR, I still got the multiple-course meal, amenity kit, and even pajamas. All the standard items you would get as though you were flying Cathay Pacific for a 14-hour flight.
For some this might not seem like a prize for a contest, but for many who love the airline business, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is holding a contest, where the winner will live in YVR for 80 days.
Do not worry, you won’t have to sleep there – a nice free room awaits you in a hotel, but during the day time hours, you are on. There will be no “average day” during your 80-day stint. “Each day, he/she will be shooting a story, editing it and posting it to the Live@YVR site,” Rebecca Catley, Director of Communications for the airport explained via email. “They will be meeting people, researching stories, socializing with YVR employees, and checking out all the airport has to offer. They will be using Twitter and Facebook, writing a daily blog, and some days, turning the camera on themselves as part of their video diary. There will be lots they will want and need to do and lots for them to explore.”
The idea is to show how YVR is a city with-in a city. Many passengers just see the airport as one unwelcome step to the travel experience, but they can be part of the experience. There are over 23,000 employees and 400 businesses at the YVR to explore, which is similar to many other airports.
Now, the biggest restriction for the contest is you must be a British Columbia resident, but you do not need to be a Canadian citizen. Probably one of the strictist requirements, according to their site, is you must be “generally awesome,” a very important quality. If you meet the requirements and have a great idea, post your video to their contest page and good luck!