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vancouver international airport terminalMost airports tend to blur together in my mind into a haze of fluorescent food courts, gray walls and dull-eyed passengers — but every now and then I walk into one that actually makes me want to stay a while. On my last trip, it was Vancouver International. Airy, modern and impeccably clean, its terminals offered a few perks I wasn’t expecting — like recycling bins for bottles and paper, and armrests with cupholders on many of the seats in the gate areas. (I wondered why all the seats didn’t have them until I saw a woman stretched out for a nap across three of the cupholder-less chairs. Aha — smart planning.)

Even Vancouver’s bathrooms were a step above the airport norm. The spacious stalls offered plenty of floor space to maneuver a carry-on or two, and there were multiple hooks on the wall for purses, shopping bags and other paraphernalia. I once had a laptop bag crash down onto the bathroom tiles at the Philadelphia airport when I tried to hang both it and a coat on the only available hook — so you can bet I appreciated the extra wiggle room.

And don’t forget the free Wi-Fi. (Yes, Vancouver has that too.) When we recently asked our Twitter followers which amenities a great airport absolutely must have, that was the top response. “FREE Wi-Fi is a MUST!!” opined @BlkChickOnTour. “To charge for it is just plain greedy.” (See our Airport Internet Tips for more on this topic.)

Another techie traveler weighed in with her own, somewhat related preference: “Outlets! [My] pet peeve is finding [the] only outlets in [the] terminal snagged by people watching movies on [their] computer,” said @CAMillsap. While I didn’t see any in Vancouver, many other airports (such as Philadelphia International and Toronto Pearson) have added special charging stations to help travelers keep laptops, cell phones and other gadgets juiced up when they’re on the go — without having to huddle on the floor beside an inconveniently located wall outlet.

But good design and modern amenities can only take an airport so far. “The perks are the people!” said @johnmill79. “Give me good, clean customer service.” On this one, Canada wins again. I couldn’t believe how friendly the airport security folks were in Toronto, and even the customs person was almost — almost — cordial.

What do you find most essential for a great airport? Vote in our poll:

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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7 Responses to “What Makes a Great Airport? It’s the Little Things”

  1. TravelBird says:

    I want it all! I guess transportation is the most important but Wi-Fi is also necessary these days, particularly if your flight is delayed and you need to make new travel plans. It would help relieve some of the frustration.

    Good shops and restaurants, yes, but cheaper items are especially important. How can water be so expensive when, by law you cannot take your own drink in with you?

    Finally, more comfortable seats and places to sleep please. Airports seems to deny the fact that people are regularly forced to spend long hours in a a terminal, often at night, so it’s time to do everyone a favor and allow you to sleep. I know they don’t want people choosing to spend a night there, but there must be a solution – a ticket to the sleeping area if you have a long delay or canceled flight, perhaps?

  2. Marilyn_Res says:

    Thanks for this poll.

    Vancouver’s YVR is great in another respect: the absolutely spectacular Northwest Coast Native art that adorns the walls and ceilings and hallways:

    I agree with everything TravelBird says about the necessity of Wi-Fi and comfortable places to sleep, and the scourge of overpriced water. That’s why I always bring half-empty water bottle & take my last gulp in the security line, so I can fill it up at a water fountain on the other side.

  3. Prashansa says:

    Everything, actually. Though free wi-fi doesn’t matter much to me. I’d rather read a good book.

  4. jim curry says:

    i like to watch the airport oppperations. if i have to change planes i wish there was an area where i could watch the aircraft land and take off, see an airport at work, not just the tiny few of a few yards of one runway at the end of the terminal i am stuck in. there is only so much i can do on an ipad, cell phone or reading.

  5. Jean Naimard says:

    Wifi is free in Canadian airports simply because the CIA equivalent in Canada use it to spy on passengers:


  6. Mary Ann Davis says:

    What I need the most is an airport designed for minimal walking. I am ambulatory, but long distances are difficult.

  7. Judy Diamond says:

    I am reading that Candaian airports are the best – however this definitely does NOT include Montreal, where I spent over 2 hours getting through Immigration in September this year. I am flying there again on Xmas Day and am absolutely dreading the whole horrific airport experience. Hundreds of us arrived on packed flights in September and were herded around like cattle, the staff were rude and fed up; I had a better experience in Cuba with their limited resources. I wrote to the PM and the Premier of Quebec who didn’t even bother to acknowledge my complaint. I am only repeating the experience at Xmas because my daughter lives there. Otherwise I would say, never ever again!!

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