But of non-hub airports, I'm guessing that I've flown into Vancouver BC (YVR) the most. It was a frequent Q400 destination from both Portland and Seattle, and it was one of NewCo's very first destinations; we've been flying there nearly continuously since 2007. I've bid it as much as possible, partly because it's one of my favorite destinations, and partly because the distance from Minneapolis makes for efficient pairings.
I've been back in Minnesota nearly five years now, and while I've come to a new appreciation of my native state, I do still miss living in the Pacific Northwest. The flight to Vancouver - across the Rockies near Helena, passing over Spokane, crossing the Cascades by Lake Chelan and descending just south of Mt Baker, then turning northwest over Bellingham - feels like a homecoming. Seeing the jagged peaks and emerald valleys of the North Cascades, the fir-carpeted islets of the San Juans set in the glittering Rosario Straight, and the snowcapped dome of Rainier floating serenely above it all puts a lump in my throat.
The city of Vancouver is one of my favorites anywhere in the world, the very image of what a modern world city nestled between the sea and a rugged wilderness should look like. Yeah, it's expensive, and you have the hassle of customs, and it's a bit of a hike from our crew hotel to downtown - but it feels like we've actually flown somewhere. Waking up in Omaha or Dallas or Louisville, you might as well have been teleported. If the layover is long enough, there's no shortage of things to do in Vancouver, whether it's barhopping downtown or walking in Stanley Park or hiking the Grouse Grind or watching seaplanes take off and land over a pint at the Flying Beaver. Even if you don't want to venture very far from the crew hotel, there's a lot nearby. I've never been bored in YVR.
The other thing about Vancouver is that the airport is quite easy to fly in and out of, considering it's the third largest city in Canada and its airspace is somewhat constricted by terrain and ubiquitous GA traffic. The downwind is seldom longer than 10 miles. They usually land us on 26R/8L, even when coming from the south, making for a short taxi straight into the gate. For some reason they restrict departures to 26L/8R, making for a somewhat long taxi out, but once you get to the runway you seldom wait more than a minute or two to depart. The departure off 26L is always gorgeous, with a big sweeping left-hand turn that takes in views of the Georgian Straight, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Islands, and Puget Sound to the south. Our usual departure takes us right over Mt Baker; I occasionally request a few miles deviation either side and give the passengers a nice view.
I had a regrettably short Vancouver layover last week, but the morning departure was as clear and beautiful as I've ever seen it. The sun was just peeking above the Cascades as we turned eastward, and by the time we were over Mount Baker all the snowy peaks were turned pink in the morning alpenglow. You could see as far south as Mt Adams, despite smoke from fires in that area. This was particularly exciting because that night, after my trip was over, I was flying back west once more for a weekend of hiking, dirt-biking, and beer-drinking with friends in Portland. The Pacific Northwest has had an exceptionally nice late summer; at one point Portland went 53 days without recorded rainfall.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other thing I like about YVR: our ground staff. The rampers, who are contractors and have been through some turmoil the last few years, are diligent, hard-working, and always ready to marshal us in when I taxi up. The WidgetCo gate agents are a friendly, helpful bunch, even for Canadians. Several are even readers of this blog. It's really nice to pull into gate 86 and see a smiling, familiar face at the jetbridge. This was a more common thing when we were a small airline and flew only a few places, but now we have so many destinations - and my trips are so varied - that there aren't many gate agents I'm on a first-name basis with anymore. YVR is a happy exception.